Tags Posts tagged with "Exercise"

Exercise

METRO photo
Even modest exercise may impact your health outcomes

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Last week, I wrote about the challenges of relying on exercise for weight loss. That’s not to say that it’s not important to exercise. It has powerful effects in altering how our genes express themselves and can improve our outcomes with specific diseases, such as diabetes and a host of other health issues, including kidney stones, osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease and breast, colorectal and endometrial cancers (1).

Despite all the positives, it’s sometime difficult to motivate yourself to exercise. However, there are some simple ways to motivate yourself during exercise. One study showed that those who repeated positive mantras to themselves during exercise were able to persist for longer periods (2).

Why is this so important now? Because we are too sedentary, and this is the time of the year when we are especially so. According to data from the 2015-2018 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the Northeast had among the highest levels of physical inactivity by U.S. region, at 25.6 percent of the population (3).

Can exercise alter your fat genes?

Exercise may have a significant impact on how our genes express themselves.

In a study, results showed that thousands upon thousands of genes in fat cells were affected when participants exercised for six months (4). The study involved sedentary men and had them exercise twice a week at a one-hour spin class. According to the researchers, the genes impacted were those involved most likely in storing fat and in risk for subsequent diabetes and obesity development. These participants also improved other important health metrics, including their cholesterol, blood-pressure, fat percent and, later, their waist circumferences.

The effect identified on the fat cells is referred to as epigenetics, where lifestyle modifications ultimately lead to changes in gene expression, turning them on and off. This has been shown with dietary changes, but this is one of the first studies to show that exercise also has significant impacts on our genes. It took only six months to see these numerous gene changes with modest amounts of cardiovascular exercise.

Do you need more encouragement? Another study showed substantial gene changes in muscle cells after one workout on a stationary bike (5). Yet another introduced six weeks of endurance exercise to healthy, but sedentary, young men and identified an abundance of genetic changes to skeletal muscle with broad impacts on physical and cognitive health (6).

Which is better: exercise or drug therapy?

What if we could forgo medications for cardiovascular disease by exercising? One meta-analysis, which examined 57 studies that involved drugs and exercise, showed similar benefits between statins and exercise in mortality with secondary prevention of coronary heart disease (7). This means that, in patients who already have heart disease, both statins and exercise reduce the risk of mortality by similar amounts. The same study also showed benefits for those with pre-diabetes and the use of metformin vs. exercise. It didn’t matter which one was used, the drug or the lifestyle change.

While these results are exciting, don’t change your medication without consulting your physician.

How does exercise help with kidney stones?

Anyone who has tried to pass a kidney stone knows it can be an excruciating experience. Most of the treatment involves pain medication, fluids and waiting for the stone to pass. However, the best way to treat kidney stones is to prevent them.

In the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, exercise reduced the risk of kidney stones by as much as 31 percent (8). Even better, the intensity of the exercise did not change its beneficial effect. What mattered more was exercise quantity. One hour of jogging or three hours of walking got the top results; however, lesser amounts of exercise also saw substantial reductions. This study involved 84,000 postmenopausal women, the population most likely to suffer from kidney stones.

Is sexual activity really exercise?

We have heard that sex may be thought of as exercise, but is this myth or is there actual evidence? According to research, this may be true. In a study, researchers found that young, healthy couples exert 6 METs — metabolic energy, or the amount of oxygen consumed per kilogram per minute — during sexual activity (9).

How does this compare to other activities? We exert about 1 MET while sitting and 8.5 METs while jogging. In terms of energy utilized, sexual activity falls between walking and jogging, therefore, it can be qualified as moderate activity. Men and women burned almost half as many calories with sex as with jogging, burning a mean of 85 calories over about 25 minutes. Who says exercise isn’t fun?

I can’t stress the importance of exercise enough. It not only helps you feel better, it may also influence gene expression and, ultimately, affect your development and prevention of disease. In certain circumstances, it may be as powerful as medications. Therefore, make exercise a priority — part of the fabric of your life. It may already be impacting the fabric of your body: your genes.

References:

(1) JAMA. 2009;301(19):2024. (2) Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Oct 10. (3) cdc.gov. (4) PLoS Genet. 2013 Jun;9(6):e1003572. (5) Cell Metab. 2012 Mar 7;15(3):405-11. (6) Mol Metab. 2021 Nov;53:101290. (7) BMJ. 2013; 347. (8) JASN. 2013;24(3):p 487-497. (9) PLoS One 8(10): e79342.

Dr. David 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.

METRO photo
Exercise is only one part of the weight loss equation

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Exercise has benefits for a wide range of medical conditions, from insomnia, fatigue, depression and cognitive decline to chronic kidney disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. But will it help you lose weight? 

While exercise equipment and gym membership ads emphasize this in January, exercise without dietary changes may not help many people lose weight, no matter what the intensity or the duration (1). If it does help, it may only modestly reduce fat mass and weight for the majority of people. However, it may be helpful with weight maintenance.

Ultimately, it may be more important to reconsider what you are eating than to succumb to the rationalization that you can eat with abandon and work it off later.

Does exercise help with weight loss?

The well-known weight-loss paradigm is that when more calories are burned than consumed, we will tip the scale in favor of weight loss. The greater the negative balance with exercise, the greater the loss. However, study results say otherwise. They show that in premenopausal women there was neither weight nor fat loss from exercise (2). This involved 81 women over a short duration, 12 weeks. All of the women were overweight to obese, although there was great variability in weight.

However, more than two-thirds of the women gained a mean of 1 kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of fat mass by the end of the study. There were a few who gained 10 pounds of predominantly fat. A fair amount of variability was seen among the participants, ranging from significant weight loss to substantial weight gain. These women were told to exercise at the American College of Sports Medicine’s optimal level of intensity (3). This is to walk 30 minutes on a treadmill three times a week at 70 percent VO2max — maximum oxygen consumption during exercise. This is a moderately intense pace.

The good news is that the women were in better aerobic shape by the end of the study. Also, women who had lost weight at the four-week mark were more likely to continue to do so by the end of the study.

Other studies have shown modest weight loss. For instance, in a meta-analysis involving 14 randomized controlled trials, results showed that there was a disappointing amount of weight loss with exercise alone (4). In six months, patients lost a mean of 1.6 kilograms, or 3.5 pounds, and at 12 months, participants lost 1.7 kilograms, or about 3.75 pounds.

Does exercise help with weight maintenance?

Exercise may help with weight maintenance, according to observational studies. Premenopausal women who exercised at least 30 minutes a day were significantly less likely to regain lost weight (5). When exercise was added to diet, women were able to maintain 30 percent more weight loss than with diet alone after a year in a prospective study (6).

Does exercise help with disease?

As a simple example of exercise’s impact on disease, let’s look at chronic kidney disease (CKD), which affects approximately 15 percent of U.S. adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (7).

Trial results showed that walking regularly could reduce the risk of kidney replacement therapy and death in patients who have moderate to severe CKD, stages 3-5 (8). Yes, this includes stage 3, which most likely is asymptomatic. There was a 21 percent reduction in the risk of kidney replacement therapy and a 33 percent reduction in the risk of death when walkers were compared to non-walkers.

Walking had an impressive impact, and results were based on a dose-response curve. In other words, the more frequently patients walked during the week, the better the probability of preventing complications. Those who walked between one and two times per week had 17 and 19 percent reductions in death and kidney replacement therapy, respectively, while those who walked at least seven times per week saw 44 and 59 percent reductions in death and kidney replacement. These are substantial results. The authors concluded that the effectiveness of walking on CKD was independent of kidney function, age or other diseases.

As you can see, there are many benefits to exercise; however, food choices will have a greater impact on weight and body composition. The good news: exercise can help maintain weight loss and is extremely beneficial for preventing progression of chronic diseases, such as CKD.

By all means, exercise, but to lose weight, also focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods instead of calorie-dense foods that you may not be able to exercise away.

References:

(1) uptodate.com. (2) J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Feb;29(2):297-304. (3) ACSM.org. (4) Am J Med. 2011;124(8):747. (5) Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010;18(1):167. (6) Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1997;21(10):941. (7) cdc.gov. (8) Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2014 Jul;9(7):1183-1189.

Dr. David 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 improves bone health and brain volume

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

What does it take to get Americans off the sofa? We know that exercise is good for our long-term physical and mental health, but it’s still elusive for the majority of us. It’s just too tempting to let the next episode of our new favorite series autoplay or to answer those last 12 emails.

As kids, many of us tried to get out of gym class, and as adults, we “want” to exercise, but we “don’t have time.” I once heard that the couch is as bad as the worst deep-fried food. It perpetuates inactivity. Even sleeping burns more calories than sitting watching TV, for example.

I think part of the problem might be that we don’t know what type of exercise is best and how long and frequently to do it. 

I have good news. There is an easy way to get tremendous benefit with very little time involved. You don’t need expensive equipment, and you don’t have to join a gym. You can sharpen your wits with your feet.

Jane Brody has written in The New York Times’ Science Times about Esther Tuttle. Esther was 99 years old, sharp as a tack and was independently mobile, with no aids needed. She continued to stay active by walking in the morning for 30 minutes and then walking again in the afternoon. The skeptic might say that this is a nice story, but its value is anecdotal at best. 

Well, evidence-based medicine backs up her claim that walking is a rudimentary and simple way to get exercise that shows incredible benefits. One mile of walking a day will help keep the doctor away. 

Walking has a powerful effect on preserving brain function and even growing certain areas of the brain (1). Walking between six and nine miles a week, or just one mile a day, reduced the risk of cognitive impairment over 13 years and actually increased the amount of gray matter tissue in the brain over nine years.

Participants who had an increase in brain tissue volume also had a substantially reduced risk of developing cognitive impairment. Interestingly, the parts of the brain that grew included the hippocampus, involved with memory, and the frontal cortex, involved with short-term memory and executive decision making. There were 299 participants who had a mean age of 78 and were dementia free at the start of the trial. Imagine if you started earlier?

In yet another study, moderate exercise reduced the risk of mild cognitive impairment with exercise begun in mid-to-late life (2).

Even better news is that, if you’re pressed for time or if you’re building up your stamina, you can split a mile into two half-mile increments. How long does it take you to walk a half-mile? You’ll be surprised at how much better you will feel — and how much sharper your thinking is.

This is a terrific strategy to get you off the couch or away from your computer. Set an alarm for specific points throughout the day and use that as a prompt to get up and walk, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. The miles will add up quickly. In addition to the mental acuity benefits, this may also help with your psychological health, giving you a mental break from endless Zoom calls and your eyes a break from endless screens.

If you ratchet up the exercise to running, a study showed that mood also improves, mollifying anger (3). The act of running actually increases your serotonin levels, a hormone that, when low, can make people agitated or angry. So, exercise may actually help you get your aggressions out.

Walking has other benefits as well. We’ve all heard about the importance of doing weight-bearing exercise to prevent osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures. Sadly, if you don’t use them, bones weaken and break. Walking is a weight-bearing exercise that helps strengthen your joints, bones and muscles. 

So, remember, use your feet to keep your mind sharp and yourself even-tempered. Activities like walking will help you keep a positive attitude, preserve your bones and help increase the plasticity of your brain.

References: 

(1) Neurology Oct 2010, 75 (16) 1415-1422. (2) Arch Neurol. 2010;67(1):80-86. (3) J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2010 Apr;32(2):253-261.

Dr. David 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.

METRO photo
Exercise can actually reduce a cold’s duration

By David Dunaief, M.D,

Dr. David Dunaief

With autumn upon us, cold season is sneaking up on us. Most frequently caused by the notorious human rhinovirus, a cold’s effects can range from an annoyance to more serious symptoms that put us out of commission for a week or more.

The good news is that it may be possible to reduce the symptoms — or even reduce the duration — of a common cold with supplements and lifestyle management.

Here, we’ll separate myth from fact about which supplements may be beneficial and which may not. 

How can you get symptom relief?

Let’s start with the basics to meet your most immediate need when you start experiencing cold symptoms.

If you have congestion or coughing symptoms, time-tested symptom relief may help. Sitting in a steamy bathroom, which simulates a medical mist tent, can help. Remember, dry heat is your enemy. If your home is dry, use a cool mist humidifier to put some humidity back in the air.

Consuming salt-free soups loaded with vegetables can help increase your nutrient intake and loosen congestion. I start with a sodium-free base and add in spices, onions, spinach, broccoli, and other greens until it’s more stew-like than soup-like. Caffeine-free hot teas will also help loosen congestion and keep you hydrated.

Does zinc really help?

You may have heard that zinc helps treat a cold. But what does the medical literature say? The answer is a resounding, YES!

According to a meta-analysis that included 13 trials, zinc in any form taken within 24 hours of first symptoms may reduce the duration of a cold by at least one day (1). Even more importantly, zinc may significantly reduce the severity of your symptoms throughout, improving your quality of life. This may be due to an anti-inflammatory effect.

One of the studies, which was published in the Journal of Infectious Disease, found that zinc reduced the duration of the common cold by almost 50 percent from seven days to four days, cough symptoms were reduced by greater than 60 percent and nasal discharge by 33 percent (2). Researchers used 13 grams of zinc acetate per lozenge taken three-to-four times daily for four days. This translates into 50-65 mg per day.

There are a few serious concerns with zinc. First, the dose researchers used was well above the maximum intake recommended by the National Institutes of Health, which is 40 mg per day for adults. This maximum intake number is less for those 18 and younger (3). Also, note that the FDA has warned against nasal zinc administration with sprays, which has led to permanent loss of smell for some people.

As for the studies, not all studies showed a benefit. Also, studies where there was a proven benefit may have used different formulations, delivery systems and dosages, and there is no current recommendation or consensus on what is optimal.

What about vitamin C?

According to a review of 29 trials with a combined population of over 11,000, vitamin C did not show any significant benefit in prevention or reduction of cold symptoms or duration in the general population (4). Thus, there may be no reason to take mega-doses of vitamin C for cold prevention and treatment. However, in a sub-group of serious marathon runners and other athletes, there was substantial risk reduction when taking vitamin C prophylactically; they caught 50 percent fewer colds.

Is echinacea a magic bullet?

After review of 24 controlled clinical trials, according to the Cochrane Database, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of echinacea for treatment of duration and symptoms, but the results are disappointing presently and, at best, are inconsistent (5). There are no valid randomized clinical trials showing cold prevention using echinacea.

In a randomized controlled trial with 719 patients, echinacea was no better than placebo for the treatment of the common cold (6).

Should you exercise?

People with colds need rest — at least that was the theory. However, a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine may have changed this perception. Participants who did aerobic exercise at least five days per week, versus one or fewer days per week, had a 43 percent reduction in the number of days with colds over two 12-week periods during the fall and winter months (7). Even more interesting is that those who perceived themselves to be highly fit had a 46 percent reduction in the number of days with colds compared to those who perceived themselves to have low fitness. The symptoms of colds were reduced significantly as well.

What’s the upshot?

For symptom relief, simple home remedies may work better than any supplements. Zinc is potentially useful in treating and preventing the common cold. Use caution with dosing, however, to reduce side effects. Echinacea and vitamin C may or may not provide benefits, but don’t stop taking them if you feel they help you. Lastly, exercise can actually reduce your cold’s duration.

References: 

(1) Open Respir Med J. 2011; 5: 51–58. (2) J Infect Dis. 2008 Mar 15;197(6):795-802. (3) ods.od.nih.gov. (4) Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD000980. (5) Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD000530. (6) Ann Intern Med. 2010;153(12):769-777. (7) British Journal of Sports Medicine 2011;45:987-992.

Dr. David 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.

5 to 10 minutes of daily running, regardless of the pace, can have a significant impact on life span by decreasing cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. METRO photo
Modest lifestyle changes can add quality years

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

This past Monday, Canada honored the life of Queen Elizabeth II. Among other tributes, there was a 96-shot salute, with one shot for each year of her life. As you might imagine, it took a while.

While living to 96 was once unusual, it’s becoming more common. According to the National Institutes of Health, those in the U.S. who were more than 90 years old increased by 2.5 times over a 30-year period from 1980 to 2010 (1). This group is among what researchers refer to as the “oldest-old,” which includes those aged 85 and older.

What do these people have in common? According to one study, they tend to have fewer chronic morbidities or diseases. Thus, they tend to have a better quality of life with greater physical functioning and mental acuity (2).

In a study of centenarians, genetics played a significant role. Characteristics of this group were that they tended to be healthy and then die rapidly, without prolonged suffering (3). In other words, they grew old “gracefully,” staying mobile and mentally alert.

Factors that predict one’s ability to reach this exclusive club may involve both genetics and lifestyle choices. Let’s look at the research.

Get at least modest exercise

We are told repeatedly to exercise. Here’s one reason. Results of one study showed that 5 to 10 minutes of daily running, regardless of the pace, can have a significant impact on life span by decreasing cardiovascular and all-cause mortality (4).

Amazingly, even if participants ran fewer than six miles per week at a pace slower than 10-minute miles, and even if they ran only one to two days a week, there was still a decrease in mortality compared to nonrunners. Those who ran for this very short amount of time potentially added three years to their life span. There were 55,137 participants ranging in age from 18 to 100 years old.

An accompanying editorial to this study noted that more than 50 percent of people in the United States do not meet the current recommendation of at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day (5).

A study presented this past August at the European Society of Cardiology Congress looked at the role of simple physical activity in the elderly (6). It found that those 85 and older reduced the risk of all-cause mortality 40 percent by walking just 60 minutes a week. This is physical activity that does not actually qualify as exercise.

Eat less animal protein

A long-standing paradigm has been that we need to eat sufficient animal protein. However, cracks have developed in this theory, especially as it relates to longevity.

In an observational study using NHANES III data, results show that those who ate a high-protein diet (greater than 20 percent of calories from protein) had a twofold increased risk of all-cause mortality, a four-times increased risk of cancer mortality, and a four-times increased risk of dying from diabetes (7). This was over a considerable duration of 18 years and involved almost 7,000 participants ranging in age at the start of the study from 50 to 65.

However, this did not hold true if the protein source was plants. In fact, a high-protein plant diet may reduce the risks, not increase them. The reason, according to the authors, is that animal protein may increase insulin growth factor-1 and growth hormones that have detrimental effects on the body.

The Adventists Health Study 2 trial reinforced this data. It looked at Seventh-day Adventists, a group that emphasizes a plant-based diet, and found that those who ate animal protein once a week or less had a significantly reduced risk of dying over the next six years compared to those who were more frequent meat eaters (8). This was an observational trial with over 73,000 participants and a median age of 57 years old.

Reduce systemic inflammation

In the Whitehall II study, a specific marker for inflammation was measured, interleukin-6. The study showed that higher levels did not bode well for participants’ longevity (9). In fact, if participants had elevated IL-6 (>2.0 ng/L) at both baseline and at the end of the 10-year follow-up period, their probability of healthy aging decreased by almost half.

The good news is that inflammation can be improved significantly with lifestyle changes.

The takeaway from this study is that IL-6 is a relatively common biomarker for inflammation. It can be measured with a simple blood test offered by most major laboratories. This study involved 3,044 participants over the age of 35 who did not have a stroke, heart attack or cancer at the beginning of the study.

The bottom line is that, although genetics are important for longevity, so too are lifestyle choices. A small amount of exercise and replacing animal protein with plant protein can contribute to a substantial increase in healthy life span. IL-6 may be a useful marker for inflammation, which could help predict healthy or unhealthy outcomes. Therefore, why not have a discussion with your doctor about testing to see if you have an elevated IL-6? Lifestyle modifications may be able to reduce these levels.

References: 

(1) nia.nih.gov. (2) J Am Geriatr Soc. 2009;57:432-440. (3) Future of Genomic Medicine (FoGM) VII. Presented March 7, 2014. (4) J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;64:472-481. (5) J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;64:482-484. (6) European Society of Cardiology Congress, Aug. 28, 2022. (7) Cell Metab. 2014;19:407-417. (8) JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173:1230-1238. (9) CMAJ. 2013;185:E763-E770.

Dr. David 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.

Pixabay photo
Simple changes can help you improve lung function

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

As we are learning to live alongside COVID-19, we also have a heightened awareness of the importance of strong lung function. For those with chronic obstructive lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma, as well as those who smoke and vape, the consequences of COVID-19 are especially severe.

The good news is that we can improve lung function with simple lifestyle modifications including exercising, eating a plant-based diet with a focus on fruits and vegetables, expanding lung capacity with an incentive spirometer, and quitting smoking and vaping, which damage the lungs (1). Not only people with compromised lungs will benefit from these techniques, studies suggest everyone will benefit.

Improving asthma

In a randomized controlled trial of asthma patients, results show that after 14 days those who ate a high-antioxidant diet had greater lung function than those who ate a low-antioxidant diet (2). Additionally, those who were in the low-antioxidant diet group also had higher inflammation at 14 weeks. Inflammation was measured using a c-reactive protein (CRP) biomarker. Those who were in the low-antioxidant group also were over two-times more likely to have an asthma exacerbation. 

The good news is that the difference in behavior between the high- and low-antioxidant groups was small. The high-antioxidant group had a modest five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit daily, while the low-antioxidant group ate no more than two servings of vegetables and one serving of fruit daily. Carotenoid supplementation, instead of antioxidant foods, made no difference in inflammation. The authors concluded that an increase in carotenoids from diet has a clinically significant impact on asthma and can be seen in a very short period. 

Focusing on COPD

Several studies demonstrate that higher consumption of fiber from plants decreases the risk of COPD in smokers and ex-smokers. Bear with me, because the studies were done with men or women, not both at the same time.

In one study of men, for example, results showed that higher fiber intake was associated with significant 48 percent reductions in COPD incidence in smokers and 38 percent incidence reductions in ex-smokers (3). The high-fiber group ate at least 36.8 grams per day, compared to the low-fiber group, which ate less than 23.7 grams per day. Fiber sources were fruits, vegetables and whole grain, essentially a whole foods plant-based diet. The high-fiber group was still below the American Dietetic Association-recommended 38 grams per day. This is within our grasp. 

In another study, women had a highly significant 37 percent decreased risk of COPD among those who consumed at least 2.5 serving of fruit per day compared to those who consumed less than 0.8 servings per day (4).

The highlighted fruits shown to reduce COPD in both men and women included apples, bananas, and pears.

Using incentive spirometry

An incentive spirometer is a device that helps expand the lungs by inhaling through a tube and causing a ball or multiple balls to rise in a tube. This action opens the alveoli and may help you breathe better. 

Incentive spirometry has been used for patients with pneumonia, those who have chest or abdominal surgery and those with asthma or COPD, but it has also been useful for healthy participants (5). A small study showed that those who trained with an incentive spirometer for two weeks increased their vital capacity, right and left chest wall motion, and right diaphragm motion. This means it improved lung function and respiratory motion. Participants were 10 non-smoking healthy adults who were instructed to take five sets of five deep breaths twice a day, totaling 50 deep breaths per day. The brands used in the study are inexpensive and easily accessible, such as Teleflex’s Triflo II.

In another small, two-month study of 27 patients with COPD, the incentive spirometer improved blood gases, such as partial pressure carbon dioxide and oxygen, in COPD patients with exacerbation (6). The authors concluded that it may improve quality of life for COPD patients.  

Increasing exercise

Exercise can have a direct impact on lung function. In a study involving healthy women ages 65 years and older, results showed that 20 minutes of high-intensity exercise three times a day improved FEV1 and FVC, both indicators of lung function, in as little as 12 weeks (7). Participants began with a 15-minute warm-up, then 20 minutes of high-intensity exercise on a treadmill, followed by 15 minutes of cool-down with stretching.

What is impressive is that it was done in older adults, not those in their twenties and not in elite athletes.

Note that you don’t need a treadmill to do aerobic exercise. You can walk up steps or steep hills in your neighborhood, do jumping jacks, or even dance in your living room. Whatever you choose, you want to increase your heart rate and expand your lungs. If this is new for you, consult a physician and start slowly. You’ll find that your stamina improves rather quickly with consistency.

We all should be working to strengthen our lungs. This three-pronged approach of lifestyle modifications – diet, exercise and incentive spirometer – can help without expending significant time or expense.

References: 

(1) Public Health Rep. 2011 Mar-Apr; 126(2): 158-159. (2) Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Sep;96(3):534-43. (3) Epidemiology Mar 2018;29(2):254-260. (4) Int J Epidemiol Dec 1 2018;47(6);1897-1909. (5) Ann Rehabil Med. Jun 2015;39(3):360-365. (6) Respirology. Jun 2005;10(3):349-53. (7) J Phys Ther Sci. Aug 2017;29(8):1454-1457. 

Dr. David 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.

Make exercise a priority — part of the fabric of your life. METRO photo
In some circumstances, exercise may be as powerful as medications

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Exercise has powerful effects in altering how our genes express themselves and can improve our outcomes with specific diseases. Exercise has effects on diabetes and a host of other chronic diseases, including kidney stones, osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease and breast, colorectal and endometrial cancers (1).

Despite all the positives, it’s sometime difficult to motivate yourself to realize the benefits. There are, however, simple ways to motivate yourself during exercise. One study showed that those who repeated positive mantras to themselves while exercising were able to persist in their exercise routines for longer periods (2).

Why is this so important now? Because we are too sedentary, and this is the time of the year when we are especially so. According to data from the 2015-2016 National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey, we spend 6.4 hours a day sedentary (3). And this percentage is trending up.

Exercise can alter your genes

While you may be waiting for gene therapy to cure our chronic illnesses, it turns out that exercise may have a significant impact on our genes. No waiting required, this is here and now.

In a study, results showed that thousands upon thousands of genes in fat cells were affected when participants exercised (4). The study involved sedentary men and asked them to exercise twice a week at a one-hour spin class. 

According to the researchers, the genes impacted were those involved most likely in storing fat and in risk for subsequent diabetes and obesity development. Participants’ gene expression was altered by DNA methylation, the addition of a methyl group made up of a carbon and hydrogens. These participants also improved their biometrics, reducing fat and subsequently shrinking their waist circumferences, and improved their cholesterol and blood-pressure indices.

The effect is referred to as epigenetics, where lifestyle modifications can ultimately lead to changes in gene expression, turning them on and off. This has been shown with dietary changes, but this is one of the first studies to show that exercise also has significant impacts on our genes. It took only six months to see these numerous gene changes with modest amounts of cardiovascular exercise.

Do you need more encouragement? Another study showed substantial gene changes in muscle cells after one workout on a stationary bike (5). 

Is exercise as good as drug therapy?

We don’t think of exercise as being a drug, but what if it had similar benefits to certain drugs in cardiovascular diseases and mortality risk? A meta-analysis — a group of 57 studies that involved drugs and exercise — showed that exercise potentially has equivalent effects to statins in terms of mortality with secondary prevention of coronary heart disease (6). This means that, in patients who already have heart disease, both statins and exercise reduce the risk of mortality by similar amounts. The same was true with pre-diabetes and the use of metformin vs. exercise. It didn’t matter which one was used, the drug or the lifestyle change.

Don’t change your medication without consulting your physician.

Reducing the risk of kidney stones

Anyone who has tried to pass a kidney stone knows it can be an excruciating experience. Most of the treatment revolves around pain medication, fluids and waiting for the stone to pass. However, the best way to treat kidney stones is to prevent them.

In the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, exercise reduced the risk of kidney stones by as much as 31 percent (7). Even better, the intensity of the exercise was irrelevant to its beneficial effect. What mattered more was exercise quantity. One hour of jogging or three hours of walking got the top results. But lesser amounts of exercise also saw substantial reductions. This study involved 84,000 postmenopausal women, the population most likely to suffer from kidney stones.

Does sex count as exercise?

We have heard that sex may be thought of as exercise, but is this myth or is there actual evidence? Try not to giggle. Well, it turns out this may be true. In a study published in the PLoS One journal, researchers found that young healthy couples exert 6 METs — metabolic energy, or the amount of oxygen consumed per kilogram per minute — during sexual activity (8).

How does this compare to other activities? Well, we exert about 1 MET while sitting and 8.5 METs while jogging. Sexual activity falls between walking and jogging, in terms of the energy utilized, and thus may be qualified as moderate activity. Men and women burned slightly less than half as many calories with sex as with jogging, burning a mean of 85 calories over about 25 minutes. Who says exercise can’t be fun?

I can’t stress the importance of exercise enough. It not only influences the way you feel, but also may influence gene expression and, ultimately, affects the development and prevention of disease. In certain circumstances, it may be as powerful as medications and, in combination, may pack a powerful punch. Therefore, make exercise a priority — part of the fabric of your life. It may already be impacting the fabric of your body: your genes.

References: 

(1) JAMA. 2009;301(19):2024. (2) Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Oct 10. (3) JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(7):e197597. (4) PLoS Genet. 2013 Jun;9(6):e1003572. (5) Cell Metab. 2012 Mar 7;15(3):405-11. (6) BMJ 2013; 347. (7) JASN online 2013, Dec. 12. (8) PLoS One 8(10): e79342.

Dr. David 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. 

Studies show that running just 5 to 10 minutes each day may help reduce your risk of death from heart attacks, strokes, and other common diseases. Pixabay photo
Add quality years with modest lifestyle changes

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

The number of 90-year-olds is growing in the U.S. According to the National Institutes of Health, those who were more than 90 years old increased by 2.5 times over a 30-year period from 1980 to 2010 (1). This group is among what researchers refer to as the “oldest-old,” which includes those aged 85 and older.

What do these people have in common? According to one study, they tend to have fewer chronic morbidities or diseases. Thus, they tend to have a better quality of life with greater physical functioning and mental acuity (2).

In a study of centenarians, genetics played a significant role. Characteristics of this group were that they tended to be healthy and then die rapidly, without prolonged suffering (3). In other words, they grew old “gracefully,” staying mobile and mentally alert.

Factors that predict one’s ability to reach this exclusive club may involve both genetics and life-style choices. Let’s look at the research.

Get modest exercise

We are told repeatedly to exercise. Here’s one reason. Results of one study showed that 5 to 10 minutes of daily running, regardless of the pace, can have a significant impact on life span by decreasing cardiovascular and all-cause mortality (4).

Amazingly, even if participants ran fewer than six miles per week at a pace slower than 10-minute miles, and even if they ran only one to two days a week, there was still a decrease in mortality compared to nonrunners. Those who ran for this very short amount of time potentially added three years to their life span. There were 55,137 participants ranging in age from 18 to 100 years old.

An accompanying editorial to this study noted that more than 50 percent of people in the United States do not meet the current recommendation of at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day (5).

Reduce animal protein

A long-standing paradigm has been that we need to eat sufficient animal protein. However, cracks have developed in this theory, especially as it relates to longevity.

In an observational study using NHANES III data, results show that those who ate a high-protein diet (greater than 20 percent of calories from protein) had a twofold increased risk of all-cause mortality, a four-times increased risk of cancer mortality, and a four-times increased risk of dying from diabetes (6). This was over a considerable duration of 18 years and involved almost 7,000 participants ranging in age at the start of the study from 50 to 65.

However, this did not hold true if the protein source was plants. In fact, a high-protein plant diet may reduce the risks, not increase them. The reason, according to the authors, is that animal protein may increase insulin growth factor-1 and growth hormones that have detrimental effects on the body.

The Adventists Health Study 2 trial reinforced this data. It looked at Seventh-day Adventists, a group that emphasizes a plant-based diet, and found that those who ate animal protein once a week or less had a significantly reduced risk of dying over the next six years compared to those who were more frequent meat eaters (7). This was an observational trial with over 73,000 participants and a median age of 57 years old.

Reduce systemic inflammation

In the Whitehall II study, a specific marker for inflammation was measured, interleukin-6. The study showed that higher levels did not bode well for participants’ longevity (8). In fact, if participants had elevated IL-6 (>2.0 ng/L) at both baseline and at the end of the 10-year follow-up period, their probability of healthy aging decreased by almost half.

The good news is that inflammation can be improved significantly with lifestyle changes.

The takeaway from this study is that IL-6 is a relatively common biomarker for inflammation that can be measured with a simple blood test offered by most major laboratories. This study involved 3,044 participants over the age of 35 who did not have a stroke, heart attack or cancer at the beginning of the study.

The bottom line is that, although genetics are important for longevity, so too are lifestyle choices. A small amount of exercise and replacing animal protein with plant protein can contribute to a substantial increase in healthy life span. IL-6 may be a useful marker for inflammation, which could help predict healthy or unhealthy outcomes. Therefore, why not have a discussion with your doc-tor about testing to see if you have an elevated IL-6? Lifestyle modifications may be able to reduce these levels.

References:

(1) nia.nih.gov. (2) J Am Geriatr Soc. 2009;57:432-440. (3) Future of Genomic Medicine (FoGM) VII. Presented March 7, 2014. (4) J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;64:472-481. (5) J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;64:482-484. (6) Cell Metab. 2014;19:407-417. (7) JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173:1230-1238. (8) CMAJ. 2013;185:E763-E770.

Dr. David 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. 

Aerobic exercise is good for the brain. METRO photo
Exercise may improve mild cognitive impairment

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

As we consider aging, many of us fear loss of our mental capability as much as loss of our physical capabilities. Yet, just as with physical capabilities, age is not the only determinant.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is feared, not only for its own challenges but also because it may lead to dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia being the more common forms. Prevalence of MCI may be as high as one-in-five in those over age 70 (1). It is thought that those with MCI may have a 10 percent chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease (2).

So, the most compelling questions are: What increases risk and what can we do to minimize the risk of developing cognitive impairment? Many chronic diseases and disorders contribute to MCI risk. These include diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and strokes. If we can control these, we may reduce our risk of cognitive decline.

Heart disease creates substantial risk

In an observational study, results demonstrated that those suffering from years of heart disease are at a substantial risk of developing MCI (3). The study involved 1,450 participants who were between the ages of 70 and 89 and were not afflicted by cognitive decline at the beginning of the study. Patients with a history of cardiac disease had an almost two times greater risk of developing nonamnestic MCI, compared to those individuals without cardiac disease. Women with cardiac disease were affected even more, with a three times increased risk of cognitive impairment.

Nonamnestic MCI can affect executive functioning — decision-making abilities, spatial relations, problem-solving capabilities, judgments and language. It is a more subtle form of impairment that may be more frustrating because of its subtlety. It may lead to vascular dementia and may be a result of clots.

Strokes: where is more important than how many

Not surprisingly, stroke may have a role in cognitive impairment. Stroke is also referred to as a type of vascular brain injury. But what is surprising is that in a study, results showed that the location of the stroke was more relevant than the frequency or the multitude of strokes (4). If strokes occurred in the cortical and subcortical gray matter regions of the brain, executive functioning and memory were affected, respectively. Thus, the locations of strokes may be better predictors of subsequent cognitive decline than the number of strokes. Clinically silent strokes that were found incidentally by MRI scans had no direct effect on cognition, according to the authors.

Exercise benefits cognitive functioning

Exercise may play a significant role in preventing cognitive decline and possibly even improving MCI in patients who have the disorder. Interestingly, different types of exercise have different effects on the brain. Aerobic exercise may stimulate one type of neuronal development, while resistance training or weightlifting another.

In an animal study involving rats, researchers compared aerobic exercise to weightlifting (5). Weightlifting was simulated by attaching weights to the tails of rats while they climbed ladders. Both groups showed improvements in memory tests, however, there was an interesting divergence.

With aerobic exercise, the level of the protein BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) increased significantly. This is important, because BDNF is involved in neurons and the connections among them, called synapses, related mostly to the hippocampus, or memory center. The rats that “lifted weights” had an increase in another protein, IGF (insulin growth factor), that promotes the development of neurons in a different area of the brain. The authors stressed the most important thing is to exercise, regardless of the type.

In another study that complements the previous study, women were found to have improved spatial memory when they exercised — either aerobic or weightlifting (6). Interestingly, verbal memory was improved more by aerobic exercise than by weightlifting. Spatial memory is the ability to recall where items were arranged, and verbal memory is the ability to recall words. The authors suggest that aerobic exercise and weightlifting affect different parts of the brain.

This was a randomized controlled trial that was six months in duration and involved women, ages 70 to 80, who had MCI at the trial’s start. There were three groups in the study: aerobic, weightlifting and stretching and toning. Those who did stretches or toning alone experienced deterioration in memory skills over the same period.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report claims the majority of the adult population is woefully deficient in exercise: Only about 1 in 5 Americans exercise regularly, both using weights and doing aerobic exercise (7).

Diet makes a difference

Several studies show that the Mediterranean diet helps prevent MCI and possibly prevents conversion from MCI to Alzheimer’s (8, 9). In addition, a study showed that high levels of carbohydrates and sugars, when compared to lower levels, increased the risk of cognitive decline by more than three times (5). The authors surmise that carbohydrates have a negative impact on insulin and glucose utilization in the brain.

Cognitive decline should be taken very seriously, and everything that can be done to prevent it should be utilized. Exercise has potentially positive effects on neuron growth and development, and controlling carbohydrate and sugar intake may reduce risk. Of course, if you have cardiovascular disease, making lifestyle changes to reverse or minimize its impact will reap both physical and cognitive rewards. Let’s not squander the opportunity to reduce the risk of MCI, a potentially life-altering disorder.

References:

(1) Ann Intern Med. 2008;148:427-434. (2) uptodate.com. (3) JAMA Neurol. 2013;70:374-382. (4) JAMA Neurol. 2013;70:488-495. (5) J Alzheimers Dis. 2012;32:329-339. (6) J Aging Res. 2013;2013:861893. (7) Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2013;62:326-330. (8) Neurology 2013;80:1684-1692. (9) Arch Neurol. 2009 Feb.;66:216-225.

Dr. David 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. 

Sleep clears toxins from the brain. METRO photo
Exercise and sleep are crucial to clearing the clutter

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Considering the importance of our brain to our functioning, it’s startling how little we know about it. 

We do know that certain drugs, head injuries and lifestyle choices negatively impact the brain. There are also numerous disorders and diseases that affect the brain, including neurological (dementia, Parkinson’s, stroke), infectious (meningitis), rheumatologic (lupus and rheumatoid arthritis), cancer (primary and secondary tumors), psychiatric mood disorders (depression, anxiety, schizophrenia), diabetes and heart disease.

Although these diseases vary widely, they generally have three signs and symptoms in common: they either cause altered mental status, physical weakness or change in mood — or a combination of these.

Probably our greatest fear regarding the brain is a loss of cognition. Fortunately, there are several studies that show we may be able to prevent cognitive decline by altering modifiable risk factors. They involve rather simple lifestyle changes: sleep, exercise and possibly omega-3s.

Let’s look at the evidence.

Clutter slows us down as we age

The lack of control over our mental capabilities as we age frightens many of us. Those who are in their 20s seem to be much sharper and quicker. But are they really?

In a study, German researchers found that educated older people tend to have a larger mental database of words and phrases to pull from since they have been around longer and have more experience (1). When this is factored into the equation, the difference in terms of age-related cognitive decline becomes negligible.

This study involved data mining and creating simulations. It showed that mental slowing may be at least partially related to the amount of clutter or data that we accumulate over the years. The more you know, the harder it becomes to come up with a simple answer to something. We may need a reboot just like a computer. This may be possible through sleep, exercise and omega-3s.

Get enough sleep

Why should we dedicate 33 percent of our lives to sleep? There are several good reasons. One involves clearing the mind, and another involves improving our economic outlook.

For the former, a study done in mice shows that sleep may help the brain remove waste, such as those all-too-dangerous beta-amyloid plaques (2). When we have excessive plaque buildup in the brain, it may be a sign of Alzheimer’s. When mice were sleeping, the interstitial space (the space between brain gyri, or structures) increased by as much as 60 percent.

This allowed the lymphatic system, with its cerebrospinal fluid, to clear out plaques, toxins and other waste that had developed during waking hours. With the enlargement of the interstitial space during sleep, waste removal was quicker and more thorough, because cerebrospinal fluid could reach much farther into the spaces. A similar effect was seen when the mice were anesthetized.

In another study, done in Australia, results showed that sleep deprivation may have been responsible for an almost one percent decline in gross domestic product for the country (3). The reason? People are not as productive at work when they don’t get enough sleep. They tend to be more irritable, and concentration may be affected. We may be able to turn on and off sleepiness on short-term basis, depending on the environment, but we can’t do this continually.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four percent of Americans reported having fallen asleep in the past 30 days behind the wheel of a car (4). And “drowsy driving” led to 83,000 crashes in a four-year period ending in 2009, according to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Prioritize exercise

How can I exercise, when I can’t even get enough sleep? Well there is a study that just may inspire you.

In the study, which involved rats, those that were not allowed to exercise were found to have rewired neurons in the area of their medulla, the part of the brain involved in breathing and other involuntary activities. There was more sympathetic (excitatory) stimulus that could lead to increased risk of heart disease (5). In rats allowed to exercise regularly, there was no unusual wiring, and sympathetic stimuli remained constant. This may imply that being sedentary has negative effects on both the brain and the heart.

This is intriguing since we used to think that our brain’s plasticity, or ability to grow and connect neurons, was finite and stopped after adolescence. This study’s implication is that a lack of exercise causes unwanted new connections. Human studies should be done to confirm this impact.

Consume omega-3 fatty acids

In the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study, results showed that those postmenopausal women who were in the highest quartile of omega-3 fatty acids had significantly greater brain volume and hippocampal volume than those in the lowest quartile (6). The hippocampus is involved in memory and cognitive function.

Specifically, the researchers looked at the levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in red blood cell membranes. The source of the omega-3 fatty acids could either have been from fish or supplementation.

It’s never too late to improve brain function. Although we have a lot to learn about the functioning of the brain, we know that there are relatively simple ways we can positively influence it.

References:

(1) Top Cogn Sci. 2014 Jan.;6:5-42. (2) Science. 2013 Oct. 18;342:373-377. (3) Sleep. 2006 Mar.;29:299-305. (4) cdc.gov. (5) J Comp Neurol. 2014 Feb. 15;522:499-513. (6) Neurology. 2014;82:435-442.

Dr. David 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.