Our bodies have evolved to thrive with activity.
Without enough of it, they start to let us down in all kinds of ways, as these scientific studies from the second half of 2012 seem to confirm
Stay active to stop your brain shrinking
Cognitive impairment in older people is linked to brain atrophy. A group of researchers in Japan looked at whether daily physical activity could prevent or slow the rate of brain shrinkage. After studying 381 men and 393 women over eight years, the researchers found a significant link between activity, daily energy expenditure and amount of brain atrophy. They concluded: “Promoting participation in activities may be beneficial for attenuating age-related frontal lobe atrophy and for preventing dementia.”
Could exercise replace hormone therapy?
Post-menopausal women, and their GPs, are more cautious these days about the use of HRT to offset the symptoms of menopause. But scientists are beginning to understand more clearly how the loss of oestrogen to women’s bodies at this stage of life sets up all sorts of longer-term problems. Oestrogen plays an important role in regulating metabolism in women, so the loss of this crucial hormone can lead to weight gain, especially around the centre of the body, increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, liver dysfunction and muscle weakness. According to the authors of this study, however, “Every one of these alterations can be prevented or reversed by increasing physical activity levels.”
This was quite an early-stage study – it cannot tell us how much exercise you have to do, nor what type, in order to override the increased risks post-menopause. But they believe that if the loss of oestrogen function is “caught early”, the effects can be offset by even low levels of physical activity. Conversely, they think that once metabolic changes have set in, it is likely to take much more strenuous exercise to counteract the process.
Inactivity is a killer the world over
This study from mid-2012 did a heap of calculations to quantify how much disease and death is the result of physical inactivity; and also to hypothesise how many lives could be saved if we all moved a bit more. In summary, they found that worldwide, physical inactivity accounted for an average of:
- 6 per cent of heart disease
- 7 per cent of type 2 diabetes
- 10 per cent of breast cancer
- 10 per cent of colon cancer, and
- 9 per cent of premature death
That translates, they say, to 5.3m early deaths attributable to inactivity, in 2008.
Do statins make us weak?
Statins, say the researchers in this study, are the most prescribed drugs in the world. They are highly effective at lowering cholesterol levels and thereby reducing the risk of heart disease. Increasingly, older people are encouraged to take statins as preventive medicine.
Most people who take statins experience few or no side effects. But this study investigated one of the more common symptoms, affecting almost 1 in 10 people: muscle pain, cramps and weakness. This is another rather early-stage investigation. But it highlights two aspects that clearly need more research:
- Exercise may exacerbate symptoms of muscle pain among statin-users who suffer from this side-effect
- Insufficient Vitamin D will also make worse the muscle pain and weakness suffered by statin-users who get this symptom