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Walking

A recent study found that those who walk with more pace are more likely to decrease their mortality from all causes and increase their longevity.
Look beyond the number of steps you take
Dr. David Dunaief

By David Dunaief, M.D.

For most of us, exercise is not a priority during the winter months, especially during the holiday season. We think that it’s okay to let ourselves go and that a few more pounds will help insulate us from the anticipated cold weather, when we will lock ourselves indoors and hibernate. Of course I am exaggerating, but I am trying to make a point. During the winter, it is even more important to put exercise at the forefront of our consciousness, because we tend to gain the most weight during the Thanksgiving to New Year holiday season (1).

Many times we are told by the medical community to exercise, which of course is sage advice. It seems simple enough; however, the type, intensity level and frequency of exercise may not be well defined. For instance, any type of walking is beneficial, right? Well, as one study that quantifies walking pace notes, some types of walking are better than others, although physical activity is always a good thing compared to being sedentary.

We know exercise is beneficial for prevention and treatment of chronic disease. But another very important aspect of exercise is the impact it has on specific diseases, such as diabetes and osteoarthritis. Also, certain supplements and drugs may decrease the beneficial effects of exercise. They are not necessarily the ones you think. They include resveratrol and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen). Let’s look at the evidence.

Walking with a spring in your step

While pedometers give a sense of how many steps you take on a daily basis, more than just this number is important. Intensity, rather than quantity or distance, may be the primary indicator of the benefit derived from walking.

In the National Walkers’ Health Study, results showed that those who walk with more pace are more likely to decrease their mortality from all causes and to increase their longevity (2). This is one of the first studies to quantify specific speed and its impact. In the study, there were four groups. The fastest group was almost jogging, walking at a mean pace of less than 13.5 minutes per mile, while the slowest group was walking at a pace of 17 minutes or more per mile.

The slowest walkers had a higher probability of dying, especially from dementia and heart disease. Those in the slowest group stratified even further: Those whose pace equaled 24-minute miles or greater had twice the risk of death compared to those who walked with greater speed. However, the most intriguing aspect of the study was that there were big differences in mortality reduction in the second slowest category compared to the slowest, which might only be separated by a minute-per-mile pace. So don’t fret: You don’t have to be a speed walker in order to get significant benefit.

Mind-body connection

The mind also plays a significant role in exercise. When we exercise, we tend to beat ourselves up mentally because we are disappointed with our results. The results of a new study say that this is not the best approach (3). Researchers created two groups. The first was told to find four positive phrases, chosen by the participants, to motivate them while on a stationary bike and repeat these phrases consistently for the next two weeks while exercising.

Members of the group who repeated these motivating phrases consistently, throughout each workout, were able to increase their stamina for intensive exercise after only two weeks, while the same could not be said for the control group, which did not use reinforcing phrases.

‘Longevity’ supplement may have negative impact

Resveratrol is a substance that is thought to provide increased longevity through proteins called Sirtuin 1. So how could it negate some benefit from exercise? Well, it turns out that we need acute inflammation to achieve some exercise benefits, and resveratrol has anti-inflammatory effects. Acute inflammation is short-term inflammation and is different from chronic inflammation, which is the basis for many diseases.

In a small randomized controlled study, treatment group participants were given 250 mg supplements of resveratrol and saw significantly less benefit from aerobic exercise over an eight-week period, compared to those who were in the control group (4). Participants in the control group had improvements in both cholesterol and blood pressure that were not seen in the treatment group. This was a small study of short duration, although it was well designed.

Impact on diabetes complications

Unfortunately, type 2 diabetes is on the rise, and the majority of these patients suffer from cardiovascular disease. Drugs used to control sugar levels don’t seem to impact the risk for developing cardiovascular disease.

So what can be done? In a recent prospective (forward-looking) observational study, results show that diabetes patients who exercise less frequently, once or twice a week for 30 minutes, are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and almost a 70 percent greater risk of dying from it than those who exercised at least three times a week for 30 minutes each session. In addition, those who exercised only twice a week had an almost 50 percent increased risk of all-cause mortality (5). The study followed more than 15,000 men and women with a mean age of 60 for five years. The authors stressed the importance of exercise and its role in reducing diabetes complications.

Fitness age

You can now calculate your fitness age without the use of a treadmill, according to the HUNT study [6]. A new online calculator utilizes basic parameters such as age, gender, height, weight, waist circumference and frequency and intensity of exercise, allowing you to judge where you stand with exercise health. This calculator can be found at www.ntnu.edu/cerg/vo2max. The results may surprise you.

Even in winter, you can walk and talk yourself to improved health by increasing your intensity while repeating positive phrases that help you overcome premature exhaustion. Frequency is important as well. Exercise can also have a significant impact on complications of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and resulting death with diabetes.

When the weather does become colder, take caution when walking outside to avoid black ice or use a treadmill to walk with alacrity. Getting outside during the day may also help you avoid the winter blues.

References: (1) N Engl J Med. 2000;342:861-867. (2) PLoS One. 2013;8:e81098. (3) Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Oct. 10. (4) J Physiol Online. 2013 July 22. (5) Eur J Prev Cardiol Online. 2013 Nov. 13. (6) Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43:2024-2030.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

Walking is an easy way to help you lose weight, which will help relieve pain and restore function in your joints. Stock photo
Walking can reduce the risk of functional decline

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

As the population ages, we see more and more osteoarthritis (OA); and as the population gets heavier, we see more; and as people become more active, we see more; and as the population becomes more sedentary (weakened muscles), we see more. The point is that age, although a strong factor, may not be the only one.

Over 27 million people in the U.S. suffer from OA (1). Osteoarthritis is insidious, developing over a long period of time, and it is chronic by nature. It is a top cause of disability (2). What can we do about it?

It turns out that OA is not just caused by friction or age-related mechanical breakdown but rather by a multitude of factors. These include friction, but also local inflammation, genes and metabolic processes at the cellular level (3). Being a more complicated process means that we may be able to prevent and treat it better than we thought by using exercise, diet, medication, injections and possibly even supplements. Let’s look at some of the research.

How can exercise be beneficial?

In an older study, results showed that even a small 10-pound weight loss could result in an impressive 50 percent reduction of symptomatic knee OA over a 10-year period (4).

One of the exercises that most of us either can tolerate or actually enjoy is walking. We have heard that walking can be dangerous for exacerbating OA symptoms; the pounding can be harsh on our joints, especially our knees. Well, maybe not. Walking may have benefits. And once we figure out what exercise might be useful, in this case walking, how much should we do? In the Multicenter Osteoarthritis Study (MOST), results showed that walking may indeed be useful to prevent functional decline (5). But certainly not in overweight or obese patients and not older patients, right?

Actually, the patients in this study were a mean age of 67 and were obese, with a mean body mass index (BMI) of 31 kg/m2, and either had or were at risk of knee arthritis. In fact, the most interesting part of this study was that the researchers quantified the amount of walking needed to see a positive effect. The least amount of walking to see a benefit was between 3,250 and 3,750 steps per day, measured by an ankle pedometer. The best results were seen in those walking >6,000 steps per day, a relatively modest amount. This was random, unstructured exercise. In addition, for every 1,000 extra steps per day, there was a 16 to 18 percent reduced risk of functional decline two years later.

Walking is an easy way to help you lose weight, which will help relieve pain and restore function in your joints.

Where does vitamin D fit in?

For the last decade or so, we thought vitamin D was the potential elixir for chronic diseases. If it were low, that meant higher risk for disease, and we needed to replete the levels.

Well, a randomized controlled trial (RCT), the gold standard of studies, has shown that low vitamin D levels may indeed contribute to knee osteoarthritis (6). However, repleting levels of vitamin D did not seem to stem disease progression. In fact, it had no effect on the disease, to the bewilderment of the researchers. There was no change in joint space, knee pain, mobility or cartilage loss slowing. Hmm. The patients were supplemented with vitamin D 2,000 IU for two years.

There were 146 patients involved in the study. Blood levels of vitamin D were raised by 16.1 ng/ml in the treatment group to >36 ng/ml, which was significantly greater than the 2.1 ng/ml increase in the placebo group. Since the reasons for the results are unclear, work to maintain normal levels of vitamin D to possibly prevent OA, rather than wait to treat it later.

Acetaminophen may not live up to its popularity

Acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) is a popular initial go-to drug for the treatment of osteoarthritis, but what does the research say about its effectiveness? The answer might surprise you. Although acetaminophen doesn’t have anti-inflammatory properties, it does have analgesic properties. However, in a meta-analysis (involving 137 studies), acetaminophen did not reduce the pain for OA patients (7).

In this study, all other oral treatments were significantly better than acetaminophen including diclofenac, naproxen and ibuprofen as well as intra-articular (in the joint) injectables, such as hyaluronic acid and corticosteroids, except for an oral Cox-2 inhibitor, celecoxib, which was only marginally better.

What about NSAIDs?

NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) by definition help to reduce inflammation. However, they have side effects that may include gastrointestinal bleed, and they have a black box warning for heart attacks. Risk tends to escalate with a rise in dose. But there is a twist: the FDA has approved a newer formulation of an NSAID, diclofenac (Zorvolex) (8). This formulation uses submicron particles, which are roughly 20 times smaller than the older version; since they provide a greater surface area, which helps the drug to dissolve faster, they require less dosage.

The approved dosage for OA treatment is 35 mg, three times a day. In a 602-patient, one-year duration, open-label randomized controlled trial, the newer formulation of diclofenac demonstrated improvement in pain, functionality and quality of life (9). The adverse effects, or side effects, were similar to the placebo. The only caveat is that there was a high dropout rate in the treatment group; only 40 percent completed the trial when they were dosed three times daily.

Don’t forget about glucosamine and chondroitin

Study results for this supplement combination or its individual components for the treatment of OA have been mixed. In a double-blind RCT, the combination supplement improved joint space, narrowing and reducing the pain of knee OA over two years. However, pain was reduced no more than was seen in the placebo group (10). In a Cochrane meta-analysis review study (involving 43 RCTs) results showed that chondroitin, with or without glucosamine, reduced the symptom of pain modestly compared to placebo in short-term studies (11). However, the researchers stipulate that most of the studies were of low quality.

So, think twice before reaching for the Tylenol. If you are having symptomatic OA pain, NSAIDs such as diclofenac may be a better choice, especially with SoluMatrix fine-particle technology that uses a lower dose and thus means fewer side effects, hopefully. Even though results are mixed, there is no significant downside to giving glucosamine-chondroitin supplements a chance.

However, if it does not work after 12 weeks, it is unlikely to have a significant effect. Also, try increasing your walking step count gradually; this could improve your risk of functional decline. And above all else, if you need to lose weight and do, you will reduce your risk of OA significantly.

References: (1) Arthritis Rheum. 2008;58:26-35. (2) Popul Health Metr. 2006;4:11. (3) Lancet. 1997;350(9076):503. (4) Ann Intern Med.1992;116:535-539. (5) Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2014;66(9):1328-1336. (6) JAMA. 2013;309:155-162. (7) Ann Intern Med. 2015;162:46-54. (8) FDA.gov. (9) ACR 2014 Annual Meeting: Abstract 249. (10) Ann Rheum Dis. Online Jan 6, 2014. (11) Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Jan 28;1:CD005614.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

Kara Hahn, center, officially opens Forsythe Meadow Count Park/Nora Bredes Preserve’s new walking trail during ribbon cutting ceremony Monday. Photo by Giselle Barkley

The sun appeared just in time for Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn’s (D-Setauket) ribbon cutting ceremony that marked the official opening of Forsythe Meadow County Park/Nora Bredes Preserve’s walking trail.

The ceremony took place Monday afternoon at 52 Hollow Rd. in Stony Brook. More than 50 people were in attendance including Hahn; former legislator Vivian Viloria-Fisher; Cynthia Barnes, president of the Board of Trustees Three Village; and Louise Harrison. Barnes and Harrison were both co-chairs of the Coalition for the Future of Stony Brook Village.

Once Hahn cut the ribbon, those who attended the ceremony were invited to hike the trail.

Coalition members wore pink ribbons, which the group selected upon their  outrage that developers wanted to turn the property into a 40-house subdivision.

For these members, the trail is a symbol of success in an effort to preserve this approximate 36-acre property. But according to Jeffrey Weissman, scoutmaster of Troop 377 for the Three Village Boy Scouts, the trail will not be the last improvement made to the property. Weissman wants to have more benches in the area among other improvements.

Hahn, as well as Viloria-Fisher, Barnes, Harrison and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) thanked the individuals who helped create the trail. They also thanked those who attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for their support and effort to save “Stony Brook’s last forest.”

“It is this group standing here today that saved this forest,” Harrison said. “Someday we’ll have access from the village center.”

Forsythe Meadow County Park’s new walking trail will officially open on Monday, July 27, at 3:30 p.m. Photo by Alyssa Turano

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) will finally cut the ribbon and officially open a new walking trail created in the Forsythe Meadow County Park and Nora Bredes Preserve on Monday, July 27.

Park visitors can walk and hike the trail, which spans around 1.2 miles according to Hahn. However, fires, camping and hunting are not permitted at the park, which will be open from dawn until dusk.

The county and Three Village Boy Scouts led by Jeffrey Weissman, scoutmaster of Troop 377, have made several improvements to the property in addition to the walking trail. The county parks department created a parking lot located in close proximity to the trail.

Weissman and his team, however, established the gated entranceway for the trail. They also set up fence posts and directional signs where the trail diverges to help visitors follow the trail.

People walking or hiking the trail can use hiking sticks, which are placed in holders at the entrance and exit of the trail. Visitors can also see signs throughout the trail that provide information on ticks, poison ivy and the bamboo forest, which the trail goes through, Weissman said.

“It’s nice to know this area of land preserved by Suffolk County [is] to remain a meadow and forest area and not be bulldozed and built up,” Weissman said.

In 1999, the Coalition for the Future of Stony Brook Village was created to push for the preservation of Forsythe Meadow after developmental pressures jeopardized the woodland area with a 40-lot home subdivision. The adjoining Smoke Run Farm was threatened, too.

According to Louise Harrison, who was the co-chair of the coalition, the homes would have disrupted the ambiance of the area as the woodland wraps around the farm.

In order to prevent the farm’s disappearance after the owner Joan Johnson died, the county and Brookhaven Town bought the development rights, which prevented future building on the property.

Not only did the county and town want to preserve the farm but community members realized the park was the last forest in Stony Brook. The coalition, which was around 2,000 members strong at the time, according to Harrison, banded together and fought to save the property. The county purchased the 36-acre Forsythe Meadow in 1999 to help preserve the area.

While members of the coalition celebrated the preservation of the property, Harrison said, they were not able to officially use the property until recently with the creation of the walking trail.

“It’s a real success story,” Harrison said in a phone interview. “It’s a wonderful joy to know that we can enjoy the fruits of our labor.”

The late county Legislator Nora Bredes also advocated for the area between 1992 and 1998 followed by her legislative successor, Vivian Viloria-Fisher. In April 2012, the park’s preserve was renamed to honor Bredes’ memory.

While the new trail is one of the most recent improvements, Weissman said there is more to come.

He wants to establish rest areas along the trail as well as kiosks, among other projects. Because Eagle Scouts take the lead on executing these plans according to their availability, it may take until next spring to make these plans a reality.

In regards to the walking trail residents can attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which will take place Monday at 52 Hollow Road in Stony Brook at 3:30 p.m. Hahn said the trail and the park alike are for local residents to use and enjoy.

“It has a healthy recreation aspect when you walk and hike the trail,” Hahn said. “It’s also good for your emotional well-being to get out and enjoy nature and put away electronics and just experience what we have here. It’s a beautiful addition to our parks in the area.”

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