Good news from a recent study says that a daily 2-minute walk can pave the way to improved health and mental sharpness caused by sitting around too much.
Are you someone who has been physically fit since birth and keeps it that way by engaging in hard labor or extreme sports? Or are you a person that used to be buff – say, in high school while playing on a ball team – but now looks more like a couch potato?
Or maybe you were never very physically active and might even suffer from negative health conditions, including overweight or diabetes?
The U.S. is in the grips of an “epidemic” of obesity. Experts disagree about what is causing these shocking numbers among the adult population for the one-year period 2015-2016, courtesy the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS):
- Percent of adults aged 20 and over with obesity: 39.8%
- Percent of adults aged 20 and over with overweight, including obesity: 71.6%
Here are the corresponding stats for children and teens collected during the same year:
- Percent of adolescents aged 12-19 years with obesity: 20.6%
- Percent of children aged 6-11 years with obesity: 18.4%
- Percent of children aged 2-5 years with obesity: 13.9%
The CDC and other health assessors use the Body Mass Index (BMI) to gauge the extent of an individual’s excess fat by comparing height and weight. For adults, a BMI of 30.0 or above “falls within the obese range.”
Adults can calculate their BMIs.
After playing around with this online fat-measuring tool, I found out a person 5’3″ tall and 140 lb has a “Normal” BMI between 18.5-24.9. But tweak those values just a little and look what happens: someone who stands one inch shorter (5’2″) and packs only two extra pounds of flab (142 lb) has a BMI considered “Overweight” – between 25.0 and 29.9.
Like many of us, my weight goes up and down, plus or minus up to five pounds over a few weeks, depending on what I’m eating and how much exercise I can squeeze in. I like to joke, “I’m not overweight – I’m undertall!” My doctor, however, is not amused.
With four out of ten American adults classified as obese, small wonder that improved health and well-being are on people’s minds.
The modern lifestyle involves a lot of sitting around: in the car, at work, at home, in waiting rooms – you get the picture. For years, I’ve been encouraging people, especially those who lead a mostly sedentary existence (office work, in my case) to “Get up and dance!”
If you have no sense of rhythm and two left feet, there is new hope for your good health. Sitting for prolonged periods is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and premature death.
Health authorities tell us that 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity each week sets the lowest bar for physical fitness. Would it surprise to learn that 80 percent of Americans don’t meet this goal?
A study published in the September 9, 2019, issue of Scientific Reports looked at how cranial white matter microstructure relates to physical fitness and cognition (thinking). White matter is found in the deep subcortical tissues and contains nerve fibers called axons that extend from nerve cells (neurons). Its sheath-like covering (myelin) is what makes white matter appear white.
Gray matter lies on the cortical surface of the brain and contains the cell bodies of neurons that impart to gray matter its contrasting color.
What does white matter do? One blogger for On Biology gave a great analogy by calling white matter “the subway of the brain – connecting different regions of grey matter in the cerebrum to one another.”
The electrically-insulating myelin sheaths make and keep connections between neurons to speed transmissions between them. When white matter becomes damaged or unhealthy, mental function declines since different parts of the brain need to communicate to carry out everyday activities. For example, white matter abnormalities were found in cases of autism.
In the study, participants walked at top speed for two minutes. The distance covered was recorded. Average results were 660 feet for men and 640 feet for women, equivalent to walking a mile in 16 minutes at a rate of just less than four miles per hour. Then, they took various cognitive tests and those scores were logged.
Researchers in the study found that getting up and walking energetically for 2 minutes can help reverse the poor health effects triggered by too much sitting. But the researchers discovered something they hadn’t expected:
“It surprised us to see that even in a young population, cognitive performance decreases as fitness levels drop. We knew how this might be important in an elderly population, which does not necessarily have good health, but to see this happening in 30-year-olds is surprising.”
Senior study author Tom Greene, director of the Study Design and Biostatistics Center at the Center for Clinical and Translational Science at the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City, Utah, explained the value of short daily intensive walking as an alternative to lengthier workouts that many people of all ages find difficult:
“Exercise is great, but the reality is that the practical amount of vigorous exercise that can be achieved is limited. Our study suggests that even small changes can have a big impact.”
So, if you can’t – or don’t want to – get up and dance, then do yourself a life-saving favor and, for two minutes at full-tilt-boogie:
GET UP AND WALK!