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Exercise Helps the Brain

brainscan

The brain on the right side is active after a walk, meaning the brain is ready to take the test.  It is awake, so to speak.  The brain on the left, with no exercise before the test, is dormant, or not ready to take the test. 

 

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The Morning-Person Advantage

The early start times of endurance events act as a selection pressure.

By Alex Hutchinson, Runner’s World, Published December 10, 2012

 

It’s an unpleasant fact of life that most mass-participation endurance events start at (and sometimes before) the crack of dawn. But it’s not equally unpleasant for everyone: the world is divided into morning types (“larks”), evening types (“owls”), and those who don’t have a pronounced preference either way. What if you’re a wonderful endurance athlete, but you just hate getting up in the morning? Will this make it less likely that you persist in the sport?

That’s basically the question that a group of South African scientists from the University of Cape Town tackled in a recent study published in Chronobiology International. They compared four groups of people: 125 cyclists, 120 runners, 287 Ironman triathletes, and 96 active but non-competitive controls. The first test they did was to administer the “Horne-Ostberg Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire,” which is used to distinguish larks from owls. Here are the results (where MT is morning type, NT is neutral type, and ET is evening type):

Pretty big difference in the number of morning people in the athlete groups compared to the control group. But this doesn’t distinguish between cause and effect: maybe years of pre-dawn rides have convinced those cyclists that they really like getting up in the morning (because if they didn’t tell themselves that, they’d go crazy). So the researchers also did a series of genetic tests; here are the results of one of them:

In this case, the “5 allele” is associated with shorter circadian rhythms, which in turn translates to morning preference — so people born with morning preference are indeed (at least in this particular sample of white South African men) more likely than the general population to end up getting addicted to endurance sports, presumably because of the time of day when most people train and compete.

So… who’s going to found the first Evening Triathlon Association, bringing endurance sports to the neglected owls of the world?

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Too Much Sitting Linked to Heart Fat

True even for regular exercisers.

By Scott Douglas , Runner’s World, Published November 13, 2012

Too much sitting can lead to fat accumulation around the heart, even in regular exercisers,according to research presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association.

Researchers did CT scans on 504 people with an average age of 65 to see if more sitting was associated specific patterns of fat distribution. They found that people who sat more had more fat around their hearts. This pericardial fat is strongly related to cardiovascular disease, according to lead author Britta Larsen from the University of California in San Francisco.

This was true even among the subjects who were regular exercisers. Sitting and exercise are two distinct behaviors, says Larsen. “Get enough exercise but also not sit 10 hours a day like most of us do,” she says.

If you have an office job and a standing desk or an adjustable desk isn’t an option, Larsen says, try to stand up and take a short walk every hour or two.

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How Much Exercise is Best for Mental Health?

Study finds too much can be as ineffective as too little.

By Scott Douglas, Runner’s World, Published, December 05, 2012
Interesting Study.

You’re probably well aware of running’s and other activities’ positive effect on your mental health. That’s especially true for many people this time of year, with less daylight contributing to seasonal affective disorder. But if some exercise is good at warding off the blues, is more inherently better?

Not necessarily, according to a study published in Preventive Medicine. Researchers compared self-reported data from more than 7,600 Americans on two matters: mental health, as measured by a standardized depression score, and hours per week of physical activity. Not surprisingly, mental health was better in people who reported some physical activity than in those who said they were sedentary. Moreover, as you can see in the graph below, there were marked differences in mental health with just a little physical activity, supporting the notion that the biggest gains from exercise often come from moving from being sedentary to just slightly active.

After about two hours per week of activity, however, there wasn’t significant continued gain in mental health. And then, after about 7.5 hours of physical activity, the gains in mental health plateued, and then started to reverse. That reversal was ever so slight at first, as weekly physical activity climbed to 10 hours. But with more and more activity, the mental-health benefits of exercise declined significantly. Nearing 25 hours a week, reported mental health was no better than in barely active people. At the extreme end of the scale–a reported five hours a day of vigorous activity–mental health was as bad as in sedentary people.

Of course, people who average five hours of exercise a day might very well have mental health issues not amenable simply to a good workout. And some of the sedentary people may be so depressed that regular exercise seems impossible to them. But for most of us between the two extremes, “[t]he optimal threshold volume for mental health benefits was of 2.5 to 7.5 [hours] of weekly physical activity,” the researchers concluded.

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Sleep Deprivation May Lead to Weight Gain

Regularly getting less than 6 hours per day can alter appetite hormone levels.

By Scott Douglas , Runner’s World, Published November 27, 2012

People who regularly get less than six hours per day of sleep may have altered hormone levels that can lead to gaining weight,according to a research review published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Researchers at Penn State University looked at studies that examined partial sleep deprivation and at least one bodily factor, such as levels of appetite hormones, or energy intake or expenditure. By “partial sleep deprivation” they meant studies on people reporting between four and six hours of sleep per day; less than that, the researchers decided, meant that the research subjects had a sleep-related problem different from simply not getting normal amounts of sleep.

Upon reviewing the collected data, the Penn State researchers found that, in people reporting partial sleep deprivation, levels of the hormone ghrelin were higher than normal, and levels of the hormone leptin were lower than normal. This finding is significant because ghrelin is associated with increased appetite–ghrelin levels tend to rise before eating and diminish after meals. In contrast, leptin is associated with feelings of satiety, and is normally released by adipose tissue after a meal. In other words, being partially sleep deprived can lead to feeling hungrier and less full than is warranted by your activity level.

The researchers also note that being partially sleep deprived potentially means being awake around food for more hours per day. In their review, the researchers found that when people eat more in these situations, they tend to eat high-fat and/or high-sugar foods; not many people cook up a serving of Brussels sprouts when working late into the night.

Another interesting finding was that, even for people who create a calorie deficit and therefore set themselves up for weight loss, partial sleep deprivation changes the nature of that weight loss. In the partial-deprivation state, the body loses less fat and more lean mass than it does in dieters who get enough sleep.

For more on the importance of adequate sleep and ways to attain it, Running Times article.

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