During the past two months, the Juvenon Health Journal has explored high blood pressure and obesity, which are two of the top 10 preventable risk factors for death as outlined in an important Harvard study. All the deaths calculated in the study were considered premature or preventable in that the victims would likely not have died when they did if not for the behaviors or activities linked to their deaths.
The good news is that all of these risk factors are modifiable through a range of personal changes. In this issue we will discuss inadequate physical activity and inactivity, which claims 191,000 lives each year. Fortunately, this fourth leading risk factor for premature death is a comparatively easy one to modify.
Why is Inactivity So Bad?
It’s no secret that physical activity is good for us, but for all our good intentions we are often lured into sedentary lifestyles that put our health at risk. In order to understand just how bad inactivity is for older people, it’s helpful to look at studies that address the king of all inactivity: bed rest.
But wait – isn’t bed rest good? It seems counterintuitive that bed rest would be bad, as many people view it as a way for the body to restore itself. However, researchers have found that serious inactivity spells catastrophe for muscles, bones, aging and mitochondria.
In 15 trials that investigated bed rest as a treatment for a variety of conditions, no outcomes improved significantly. What’s more, nine conditions – including acute low back pain, heart attack and acute infectious hepatitis – actually worsened. Furthermore, 24 additional clinical trials showed that no outcomes improved significantly with bed rest and eight worsened significantly after a medical procedure. You can read more about this research here.
When leading inactivity researcher William Evans, PhD, was interviewed on the PBS show, Nova, he drove the point home this way: “What we see is that 10 days of bed rest is equivalent to about 15 years of aging.”
Other studies showed how muscle strength was cut in half after 3-5 weeks of bed rest. Additional research documented the ill effects of bed rest on bones, as well as the immune, nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular, respiratory and gastrointestinal systems.
Mitochondria, Exercise and Aging
Scientists constantly endeavor to crack the code on aging. The common wisdom is that as people age their muscles get weaker, their mitochondria decline, their endurance and stamina falters, they show signs of aging like graying hair, hair loss, poor balance, and poor daily function. Scientists reasoned that loss of youthful vigor is inevitable. However, recent research (Read more here) showed that mice that exercised reversed mitochondrial damage and signs of aging – their hair stayed dark and shiny and their muscles were strong and active.
Also, recent technological advances such as genetic microarray chips and sophisticated microscopes have allowed researchers to identify the molecules in the body that support growth of mitochondria and youthfulness. They are thus able to identify many of the specific cellular effects of exercise – especially in large muscles. Scientists now believe the primary molecule in the body that stimulates growth of mitochondria – PGC-1alpha – is activated by exercise. This “exercise molecule” activates the growth of new mitochondria; therefore even older people may enjoy certain aspects of youth, such as strong muscles, endurance and brainpower. It is also possible to supplement with nutrients that activate and elevate PGC-1alpha for a positive impact on the mitochondria.
When you exercise your legs, for example, PGC-1 alpha is stimulated all over your body. That means that by exercising one part of your body, you can build up the mitochondria all over your body; for example, in the brain. Even older people can have youthfulness – strong muscles, endurance, brains, memory, and energy. People who exercise often look younger, too.
Important News for Couch Potatoes and Desk Jockeys
Basically, the human body isn’t made to be sedentary – whether it’s sitting on an ergonomically correct office chair or lounging on a favorite comfy reclining chair. Sitting for long periods of time, even if you exercise daily, has a detrimental effect on health.
A long-term study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2010 followed 69,776 healthy women and 53,440 healthy men and their daily habits for 14 years. After adjusting for risk factors including body mass index and smoking, researchers found that women who spent six hours a day sitting had a 37 percent increased risk of dying versus those who spent less than three hours a day seated. Also, death rates from cardiovascular disease were 2.7 times higher in women who sat six or more hours a day, regardless of how much they exercised or weighed. The men’s sedentary risks were similar. Associations were strongest for cardiovascular disease mortality in both men and women. Read the study here.
An Australian study looked at the absence of whole-body movement as associated with abnormal glucose metabolism and the metabolic syndrome. In addition, it explored how the effects of total sedentary time and the manner in which it is accumulated may also be important. They examined the association of breaks in objectively measured sedentary time with biological markers of metabolic risk. Read the abstract here.
Importantly, the study found that people don’t have to abandon their desk jobs or relaxing sofa time to be healthy. Rather, they just have to change it up a little and incorporate mini-breaks into the day. Nothing fancy; just stand up, march in place, wiggle or even bust a silly dance move if the spirit moves you. These simple movements can help lower blood sugar, triglycerides, cholesterol and waist size.
Inactivity Can Lead To Premature Death
So, we can ascertain from a variety of credible studies, that inactivity can indeed lead to premature death. Exercise recommendations vary from person to person – one size does not fit all. It’s prudent to discuss exercise routines with a respected healthcare professional or certified fitness trainer who can help determine the best “prescription” for your needs.
In the coming months, the Juvenon Health Journal will continue to explore other preventable causes of death cited in the Harvard study. By offering effective, all-natural supplements and health news you can use, Juvenon provides an essential toolkit to battle these aging enemies.