Archive for November, 2012

5 of the Best Workouts You Can Ever Do

Want to help keep your weight under control, improve your balance and range of motion, strengthen your bones, protect your joints, prevent bladder control problems, and even ward off memory loss?

Who wouldn’t? Then try these 5 workouts recommended by Harvard Medical School:

1. Swimming.

You might call swimming the perfect workout.

The buoyancy of the water supports your body and takes the strain off painful joints so you can move them more fluidly.

“Swimming is good for individuals with arthritis because it’s less weight bearing,” explains Dr. I-Min Lee, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Research finds that swimming can improve your mental state and put you in a better mood.

Water aerobics is another option to help you burn calories and tone up.

2. Tai Chi.

Tai chi — a Chinese martial art that incorporates movement and relaxation — is good for both body and mind.

In fact, it’s been called “meditation in motion.”

Tai chi is made up of a series of graceful movements, one transitioning smoothly into the next.

“Tai chi often leads to more vigor and energy, greater flexibility, balance and mobility, and an improved sense of well being,” says Peter Wayne, PhD, Director of Research, Osher Center for Integrative Medicine Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and author of the upcoming book, The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi.

“Cutting-edge research now lends support to long-standing claims that Tai Chi has a favorable impact on the health of the heart, bones, nerves and muscles, immune system, and the mind.”

Tai chi is accessible, and valuable, for people of all ages and fitness levels.

“It’s particularly good for older people because balance is an important component of fitness, and balance is something we lose as we get older,” Dr. Lee says.

3. Strength training.

If you believe that strength training is a macho, brawny activity, think again.

Lifting light weights won’t bulk up your muscles, but it will keep them strong.

“If you don’t use muscles, they will lose their strength over time,” Dr. Lee says.

Muscle also helps burn calories.

“The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, so it’s easier to maintain your weight,” says Dr. Lee.

4. Walking.

Walking is simple yet powerful.

It can help you stay trim, improve cholesterol levels, strengthen bones, keep blood pressure in check, lift your mood and lower your risk for a number of diseases (diabetes and heart disease for example).

A number of studies have shown that walking and other physical activities can improve memory and resist age-related memory loss.

5. Kegel exercises.

These exercises won’t help you look better, but they do something just as important — strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder.

Strong pelvic floor muscles can go a long way toward preventing incontinence.

While many women are familiar with Kegels, these exercises can benefit men too.

To do a Kegel exercise correctly, squeeze and release the muscles you would use to stop urination or keep from passing gas.

Alternate quick squeezes and releases with longer contractions that you hold for 10 seconds, release, and then relax for 10 seconds.

Work up to three 3 sets of 10-15 Kegel exercises each day.

Many of the things we do for fun (and work) count as exercise.

Raking the yard counts as physical activity.

So does ballroom dancing and playing with your kids or grandkids.

As long as you’re doing some form of aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, and you include two days of strength training a week, you can consider yourself an “active” person.

Tai Chi May Delay Onset of Alzheimer’s Disease

As an unprecedented number of Americans approach old age, there is a growing concern about the loss of cognitive function that is often attributed to aging.

By around age 70 1 in 6 people have mild cognitive decline.

Mild cognitive decline is considered an intermediate state between the cognitive changes of aging and the earliest clinical features of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.

The good news is that due to your brain’s plasticity you may be able to improve your cognitive function and offset age-related decline through exercise, stress reduction, learning new tasks, staying socially active, and learning how to focus better — all integral elements of Tai Chi training.

“A body of studies on Tai Chi and cognitive function lend support to the promise of Tai Chi for your brain and mind’s health,” says Peter Wayne, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School Director of Research, Osher Center for Integrative Medicine Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi.

This ancient form of slow, meditative exercise helps to create mental activity, and scientists believe it may be possible to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, and although there is no cure for the disease, a study published in the June issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease revealed that elderly people practicing Tai Chi just three times a week can boost brain volume and improve memory and thinking.

Scientists from the University of South Florida and Fudan University in Shanghai found increases in brain volume and improvements on tests of memory and thinking in Chinese seniors who practiced Tai Chi three times a week.

The 8-month randomized controlled trial compared those who practiced Tai Chi to a group who received no intervention.

The same trial showed increases in brain volume and more limited cognitive improvements in a group that participated in lively discussions three times per week over the same time period.

“The ability to reverse this trend with physical exercise and increased mental activity implies that it may be possible to delay the onset of dementia in older persons through interventions that have many physical and mental health benefits,” said lead author Dr. James Mortimer, professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida College of Public Health.

Dr. Wayne notes that other randomized trials have evaluated Tai Chi in adults diagnosed with moderate levels of dementia.

In one large Chinese trial, a group assigned to Tai Chi showed greater improvements in cognitive performance after five months than a group assigned to a stretching and toning program, and fewer of those in the Tai Chi group progressed to dementia.

In a smaller study at the University of Illinois, a group of adults with dementia showed small increases in mental ability and self-esteem after 20 weeks of a combination of Tai Chi, cognitive behavioral therapies, and a support group as compared to an education group, who had slight losses of mental function.

“Interestingly, a follow-up companion study reported benefits of Tai Chi training to the caregivers of people with dementia,” says Dr. Wayne.

“Tai Chi may offer specific benefits to cognition, but more larger-scale trials that also include longer follow-up periods are needed to make stronger conclusions.”

Most Dads With Football-Related Concussions Want Young Sons Playing Tackle Football

Despite increasing awareness about concussion dangers for young athletes, a new national survey reveals 90% of men who played tackle football at the high school level or higher who suffered or suspected they suffered a concussion want their sons to play tackle football.

Not only that, nearly half (43%) believe there is too much hype over concussions.

Of all football-playing dads polled, 77% say tackle football is safe for children under age 12 even though more than 3 in 5 of these dads suffered a concussion themselves during their playing days.

And even more surprising, dads say most moms (61%) agree with them that tackle football is safe for young athletes.

The survey of 300 dads who played tackle football at the high school level or higher, was commissioned by the non-profit arm of i9 Sports, the nation’s first and fastest growing youth sports franchise.

Other survey results show:

• 53% of football dads say kids who play tackle sometimes think getting a concussion “is cool” or “a status symbol” that means you are “tough and play hard.”

• More than 1 in 3 football dads (36%) say their son’s competitive youth sports coach (any sport) is more interested in a win over safe play.

• Almost 1 in 5 football dads (19%) say despite concussion awareness, there have been no noticeable changes to the policies and procedures of youth sports.

“The startling results of this survey show even though concussion awareness is permeating youth sports today, often parents, young players and even coaches don’t heed the warnings,” says Brian Sanders, COO and President of i9 Sports, which has more than 550,000 members at 275 locations across the country.

“It’s scary to us that dads who suffered concussions encourage their young sons to play tackle football at a young age.

Studies show a concussion can be more dangerous for young athletes because their brains are still developing.”

To help ensure the health and safety of young athletes, the Centers for Disease Control has developed the “Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports” initiative to offer information about concussions to coaches, parents, and athletes involved in youth sports.

The Heads Up initiative provides important information on preventing, recognizing, and responding to a concussion.

“Because we’re getting better at recognizing the symptoms, we are seeing more kids come into our clinics who’ve been hit in the head and are complaining of concussion symptoms,” said Steevie Carzoo, ATC, a certified athletic trainer with Sports Medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

To make sure concussions are handled properly by everyone involved in a child’s life, experts at Nationwide Children’s Hospital have developed one of the first, most comprehensive concussion toolkits available.

At a single internet site, there is information for everyone from athletes to parents, from teachers and counselors, to coaches and school administrators.

Children and teens are more likely to get a concussion, and take longer to recover, than adults.

Their symptoms may appear mild, but the injury can lead to significant time lost from school and even impairment that affects memory, behavior, learning, and emotions.

Appropriate diagnosis, management, and education are critical for helping young athletes with a concussion recover quickly and fully.