TIME Exercise/Fitness

Yoga Makes You a Quicker, Better Thinker, Study Finds

Woman doing yoga
Getty Images

Stretching and toning exercises did not change brain functioning

Practice hatha yoga consistently for eight weeks and you’re likely to think faster and better remember things. Stretch and do toning exercises and your brain functioning is likely to stay the same, according to a new eight-week study of more than 100 adults with ages ranging from 55 to 79.

“Participants in the yoga intervention group showed significant improvements in working memory capacity, which involves continually updating and manipulating information,” said Edward McAuley, a professor at the University of Illinois and co-author of the study, in a statement. “They were also able to perform the task at hand quickly and accurately, without getting distracted. These mental functions are relevant to our everyday functioning, as we multitask and plan our day-to-day activities.”

Controlling for other factors like age and gender, the study concluded that practicing yoga did lead to the improved brain functioning. Hatha yoga requires focus and meditation, which may have caused improved brain functioning in other tasks, according to study co-author and University of Illinois researcher Neha Gothe.

Still, researchers called for additional, longer-term studies to understand the brain mechanism fully.

[Quartz]

 

TIME Exercise

More Exercise Isn’t Always Better, Study Shows

Men and women run on treadmills at a fitness gym in the West Bank city of Ramallah on June 25, 2012.
Men and women run on treadmills at a fitness gym in the West Bank city of Ramallah on June 25, 2012. Abbas Momani—AFP/Getty Images

The latest research shows there may be an upper limit to how helpful exercise can be on your heart

It’s probably not news to you that Americans just don’t exercise enough. Less than half of us meet the recommended amount of weekly physical activity—despite research that shows exercise can be just as effective as drugs in some cases to treat diseases such as diabetes. So why don’t we prescribe exercise in specific doses, like we would a drug?

In order to do that, you need to know exactly how much activity produces how much benefit, and whether there’s an upper limit, at which point the helpful effects either start waning or begin to do more harm than good. That’s what Paul Williams, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley national Laboratory, and his colleagues wanted to know—and they found out in a new report published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

MORE: Short Bursts of Exercise Are Better Than Exercising Nonstop

Williams started with a group of heart-attack survivors who had been enrolled in either the National Runners’ Health Study or the national Walkers’ Health Study. The two studies were designed to measure what impact—measured in deaths due to heart disease—differing amounts of physical activity could have. “The notion that there was increased risk for people at high exercise has been around for a while, but the first thing that came into my mind was that there was something unusual and maybe something wrong about the data,” Williams says. “So I was hesitant to proceed.”

But as the data continued to emerge, it began to appear that exercise, like any other prescription, could be dangerous in high doses. Those who had had heart attacks and ran more than 30 miles a week or spent more than six hours in vigorous activity weekly were at an increased risk—by up to twofold—of dying from a heart event. “I certainly expected a point of diminishing return, but I wasn’t expecting to see the increase in mortality,” says Williams.

MORE: An Hour of Exercise Can Make Up for a Day of Sitting Down

In contrast, those who exercised moderately—which is to say more than the admittedly low recommended minimum but not as much as the extremely active—lowered their risk of heart-related death by 63% compared to those exercising the least.

“I would say the gains of being active are substantial,” says Williams, “but up to a certain point.” The results held after his team adjusted for the potential effects of age, diet and medication.

MORE: Exercise Snacking: How to Make 1 Minute of Exercise Work Like 30 Minutes

Williams stresses that the results only apply to a relatively small group—people who have a history of heart disease and who exercise at high levels—but he’s currently studying the same thing in the general population to see if similar trends are at work. The data could form the foundation for a prescription-based approach to exercise, as researchers become more familiar with how much exercise can influence factors that affect our health. For now, says Williams, “The message is that at least for heart attack survivors, more is better—up to a point.”

TIME beauty

How The Media Makes Men Hate Their Bodies Too

Man lifting weights at Kent and Sussex Crossfit.
Man lifting weights at Kent and Sussex Crossfit. Andrew Errington—Getty Images

Celebrity body envy isn't just for women any more.

The grocery store checkout seems specifically designed to make you hate yourself. So many magazines on the shelves, so much focus on fixing our flaws.

If you’re female, you’re too fat, and for the fellas, we’re not nearly buff enough. Have you noticed that for men it’s about adding, and for women subtracting?

Magazines targeted at women want them to “lose” or “trim” or “tighten,” whereas for the men’s magazines it’s “adding inches” or “bulking” or “building.” Even when it comes to weight loss, males are sold on how to “get” ripped abs. Interesting side note: this bigger vs. smaller mentality also applies to genitalia. Men are marketed to being bigger, and for women it’s is all about trimming away “excess” in even the most intimate areas. Geez.

The weight loss claims are all in the realm of science fiction, promising more than a pound of fat lost per day, often adorned with a celebrity doctor’s visage to lend credence to a proclamation that defies the first law of thermodynamics (unless you weigh more than a NFL lineman and are chained to a treadmill while fed only small amounts of broccoli and boiled chicken breasts). By comparison, your perfectly reasonable dropping of one pound per week makes you a total failure.

Then you compare yourself to the Photoshopped actors and feel even worse, until you see the “celebrity body disasters” issue of a gossip rag. In it you’ll see paparazzi-snapped photos of a “Sunken stomach!” and “Man Boobs!” and “Skin disease!” as well as a “Freaky facelift!” and a “Belly nightmare!”

It’s worth noting that those “worst beach body” issues now include male celebrities too. Yes, men are starting to get their fair share of fat shaming. No longer can our culture’s leading entertainers put on a few extra pounds over the top of their board shorts and escape the media’s cruel “beach body” eye. Chris Brown was recently called out by TMZ for his post-prison belly, and the gossip site also called out celebrities like Jack Nicholson and Simon Cowell for their “man boobs.”

Disgusted, you turn away … and are faced with row upon row of chocolate bars and potato chips. You just can’t win.

But it’s not just the tabloids at your local market. The Internet wants to make you feel bad about the way you look as well, often so they can sell you a solution. Surely you’ve seen the poorly drawn cartoon ad of the woman grabbing her belly fat in disgust, and don’t forget the guy selling a “shortcut” to seeing your abs who shames you for being “weak and puny.” The solution usually involves “one weird trick,” and that trick is recurring charges to your credit card.

Turn on the TV and you’ll see fitness star Jillian Michaels berate obese participants on the train wreck game show The Biggest Loser. And instead of being vilified for her fat shaming, she nets fame and riches, earning the moniker “America’s Toughest Trainer” while promoting bias against the overweight.

But maybe those fatties just need a bit of shaming to get off their expanding butt cheeks to get in shape? After all, don’t we live in a nation where more than half the population is obese or unhealthily heavy?

Uh, no. In reality, facing stigma over one’s weight actually increases stress and is detrimental to mental health. What’s more, discriminating against people for being obese doesn’t lead to weight loss, but the opposite: it causes them to gain weight.

And it’s not just fat that’s shamed. Now people are targeted for being “too thin,” and some say bodybuilders “look gross” and “must be on steroids.” Perhaps they are chemically enhanced, but why all the hate?

Hate sells. It’s the marketing strategy of “You are broken, but I can fix you. Buy my product.” In order to get you to fork over mega bucks for some miracle weight loss aid, wrinkle remover, muscle maximizer or genitalia grower, marketers must first make you feel bad enough about yourself that you’ll reach for that credit card to solve a problem you didn’t know you had.

A desire for self-improvement is admirable, but be careful where you look for it, whether you’re male or female. And don’t start from a place of self-loathing and celebrity envy; start from one of aspiration. You can aspire to be your own version of awesome, without having to listen to any advertiser whose shtick is all about heaping criticism.

James Fell is a syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. He blogs at www.SixPackAbs.com. You can follow him @BodyForWife.

TIME fitness

Study: Running 5 Minutes a Day Could Add Years to Your Life

+ READ ARTICLE

According to a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, running 5 minutes per day can reduce an individual’s risk of premature death by about 3 years. Researchers found that people who ran less than an hour per week also saw an increase in lifespan, not just a decrease in risk of premature death. The study took place over the course of 15 years, testing participants ranging in age from 18-100.

Separate research found that running more than 20 miles per week could take years off an individual’s life, providing further evidence that less can be more with regard to exercise. According to that research, individuals who exhibit consistent but moderate workout patterns are likely to live the longest.

TIME fitness

63% of Americans Actively Avoid Soda

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Crushed can Getty Images

The soda craze is going flat–at least, according to a new Gallup poll, which found that almost two-thirds of Americans actively avoid soda in their diet.

While 41% percent of those polled in 2002 said that they try to steer clear of soda, that number has now jumped to 63%. Gallup’s poll shows that generally Americans are making more effort to have healthier diets. More than nine out of ten Americans try to include fruits and vegetables in their diets, and 52% said that they are trying to avoid sugars.

Don’t start pouring one out for the dying soda business just yet, though. A 2012 Gallup poll also found that 48% of Americans drink at least one glass of soda a day.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

1 in 4 Americans Admit Doing No Exercise At All

Overweight man using remote controls
Overweight man using remote controls Geri Lavrov—Getty Images

The 10 most sedentary states in America are as follows

The CDC released a new report Tuesday that looks at how states across the country support physical activity, revealing one in four people across the U.S. admit doing no voluntary exercise at all.

The research is intended to show how some states are much more active than others. But to really drill in the point, the CDC included a table that tracks the percentage of adults by state who participate in zero physical activity in their free time.

A total of 25.4 percent across the U.S. admitted making no time at all for leisure-time physical activity, according to the report. Just over half of those surveyed said they met the CDC’s 150-minute weekly guideline for aerobic activity.

The 10 states with the highest percentage of inactivity were as follows:

Mississippi: 36%
Tennessee: 35.1%
West Virginia: 35.1%
Louisiana: 33.8%
Alabama: 32.6%
Oklahoma: 31.2%
Arkansas: 30.9%
Kentucky: 29.3%
Indiana: 29.2%
Missouri: 28.4%

The report states that data on physical activity behavior was gathered using data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, and the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (which was used to track youth physical activity.)

While some of the above numbers might look bad, all hope isn’t lost. The CDC’s report suggests strategies states can employ to encourage physical activity. Those include:

1) Creating or enhancing access to safe places for physical activity
2) Enhancing physical education and physical activity in schools and child care settings
3) Supporting street-scale and community-scale design policy.

The CDC found that 27 states are tying to make the streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists with Complete Street policies to get people up and moving.

TIME fitness

Sitting All Day Isn’t As Bad If You Do This

African American businessman using laptop
Jetta Productions/Blend Images RM/Getty Images

Getting to the bottom of sitting on your bottom: the latest study shows that fitness matters

There’s a growing drumbeat to get all of us out of our chairs and off our bottoms. Some studies, including the most recent analysis, suggest that something about being sedentary can lead to poor health outcomes, including heart disease and things like obesity, diabetes and overall “fitness”—which, in technical terms, is a measure of how strong the heart and respiratory system are. Those studies found that even people who exercised weren’t immune to the dangers of sitting—though exercise did help.

But were the effects of sitting actually independently lowering fitness and causing health problems, or was the sitting just a reflection of the fact that people who sat more spent less time being active?

MORE: Sitting Can Increase Your Risk of Cancer By Up to 66%

Kerem Shuval, a research specialist in nutrition and physical activity at the American Cancer Society, and his colleagues wanted to address that question. So they turned to the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study, an ongoing trial of white men that measures how lifestyle behaviors affect disease and longevity. They asked the men about how many hours they spent in a car or watching TV (the sedentary part) and then put them on a treadmill to record their fitness levels, as well as tested their blood for cholesterol and blood sugar. The scientists also calculated the participants’ body fat percentage, their waist circumference and their body mass index (BMI).

When they adjusted for the amount of physical activity that the men reported, they found that those who spent more hours each week in a car or watching TV showed higher triglyceride levels, a higher BMI, waist circumference and more body fat compared to those who reported less than nine hours a week of sedentary behavior.

MORE: An Hour of Exercise Can Make Up for a Day of Sitting Down

But when Shuval then factored in the mens’ fitness levels, he found that most of the interaction with negative health outcomes went away. “Once we controlled for fitness, the effects of sedentary behavior were a lot less pronounced on health outcomes,” he says.

So there’s no question that people who are fit, which means they are physically active, and those who exercise regularly, enjoy better health. The question is whether you can get fitter not just by becoming more active, but also by sitting less. “The jury is still out in my mind about what to do about decreasing sitting,” says Shuval, who published his results in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

There are some studies that follow people over time that found that more sitting time is linked to a higher risk of early death. But that could be due to the fact that people who sit more are less physically active, so sitting is displacing exercise. Shuval found, for example, no strong association between how much time people spent sitting and their risk of metabolic syndrome – the constellation of risk factors connected to heart disease – nearly nine years later. That suggests that physical activity, and not something unique about sedentary behavior, may be the driving factor in that syndrome.

MORE: Now There’s Another Reason Sitting Will Kill You

That’s supported by a study published in PLOS ONE in January 2014 in which researchers from the U.S. and Australia found that when they included all levels of physical activity – not just moderate or vigorous activity, but even the light forms that make up most of what people do during the day – the negative effect of sitting on adverse health measures like blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar and waist circumference disappeared. In other words, how active people are – and the more active they are, the less they sit – likely has the strongest effect on health.

Shuval, however, admits that his results likely aren’t the definitive ones that will resolve the question of how sitting affects our health. The men in the Cooper study, for example, were only asked about the time they spent in their cars or watching television; they didn’t account for time spent sitting at their jobs, for instance, so the sedentary time could have been underestimated. They also only asked about sedentary habits once, so the study couldn’t account for any changes the participants had in the amount of time they spent in chairs.

The uncertainly probably explains why there aren’t yet any guidelines about healthy and unhealthy amounts of sitting time, as there are for physical activity. “We haven’t established yet by how much we need to reduce sedentary behavior and how to do it,” says Shuval. But one thing is clear – sitting less means you are probably more physically active. And there is plenty of evidence suggesting that’s good for your health.

 

TIME fitness

7 New Ways to Sit Less

You probably know by now that sitting for long periods is a big health no-no. Not only can sitting make you fat, but in 2012, Australian researchers found that people who sit for more than 11 hours a day have a 40% increased risk of death from any cause, according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

More recently, a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that people who spent most of the day on their butts had a 24% greater colon cancer risk—and that number shot up to 54% for people who clocked the most hours sitting in front of the TV. And the risks remained even for so-called “active couch potatoes”—people who work out but still spend most of their day off their feet. The study authors said this suggests that regular exercise can’t offset the risks of too much sitting.

So if sitting is so bad, why don’t we just stand all the time? While it’s important to get up and moving when you can, standing for an entire day isn’t good for you either.

Health.com:15 Exercises for People in Pain

That’s what writer Dan Kois learned, according to a recent story for New York magazine. Kois tried standing 95% of the time for 30 days straight, and had cramps in his calves at bedtime and pain in his hips, heels, and legs—even after using cushioned insoles and standing on an anti-fatigue mat at work. The take-home message? The goal isn’t to make a complete switch from one to the other. As one University of Pittsburgh professor told Kois, jobs that require a lot of standing (like nursing or retail) are linked to their own set of health problems including varicose veins, lower-back pain, and increased risk of stroke.

When it comes down to it, you really need both to stay healthy. There are easy ways to incorporate standing into your daily routine for better health.

Here are some tips to break out of a mostly sedentary lifestyle:

Set an alarm

It seems silly, but you need to remind yourself to get up. Setting your phone alarm or using an app like BreakTime for Mac devices are simple ways to encourage more movement throughout the day. Even the scientists that Kois talked to for his article used this strategy to stand up for 10 minutes every hour. Plus, you won’t be able to ignore that loud ping on your smartphone or computer when the time comes.

Health.com:18 Moves to Tone Your Legs and Butt

Start pacing

One activity you can certainly do while standing: talking on the phone. This is especially great for office dwellers who constantly get bogged down by calls or people who have lots of phone dates with friends and family. At work, you just need a long phone-to-ear cord or quality headset to ensure you get more mobile. Even taking a call standing will help your legs shift more naturally.

Walk whenever possible

You’d be surprised how many ways you can sneak walking into your daily routine. A quick walk after a meal can be a relaxing way to get your feet moving. After eating, the fat levels in your bloodstream are at their peak, so simply moving around post meal increases the activity of lipoprotein lipase, a gene that boosts your metabolism.

If you drive to work, park your car a few blocks away from the building, suggests Roshini Raj, M.D., Health‘s contributing medical editor. That way you can get your legs working before you even get through the door. Same goes for you train and subway riders. Get off a stop or two early, or take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator to add some extra steps to your day. Dr. Raj also recommends walking to get your lunch instead of ordering in. It’s that simple!

Health.com: 10 Ways to Walk Off Fat Faster

Choose the right seat

The next time you go out for food or drinks, skip the table and try sitting at the bar. Seating yourself on the front third of a bar stool can help you maintain the S-shape in your spine and distribute your weight more evenly (that is, more weight supported by your feet and less by your butt). To mimic this position, called “perching,” spread your feet just wider than hip distance and gently roll your hips forward, arching your back slightly.

Ditch the chair

Summer is definitely the time for concerts, tailgates, and lazy days at the park. Next time, don’t haul a chair with you. Leaving your folding chairs at home will force you to get up more often while outdoors. Just have a blanket on hand to rest every so often, but don’t be afraid to stand the whole time either–better yet, go for a short walk while you’re up.

Health.com:17 Easy Ways to Burn Calories Outdoors

Do stuff in person

Sometimes the best way to ask a question is face to face. Yes, it’s super easy to email, call, or IM someone at work. But does walking to your coworker’s desk really take that long? You may even get a faster response to a simple question this way. When it comes time to hash out a project, opt to chat with your colleague in person or even suggest taking a walk to the coffee machine. Both are great ways to get you two moving and working at the same time.

Create mini workstations

The idea here is to give your body the chance to rotate between different positions throughout the day. Start by creating an area at your desk where you can stand and work. A box or milk crate covered with fabric can be a great resting place for your laptop, or you can leave memos to read on a shelf at standing height. If you’re daring enough, you could even try a standing desk.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Big Picture

Where Wearable Health Gadgets Are Headed

fitbit
A person wearing a Fitbit fitness band types on a laptop Getty Images

Every once in a while, I’m shown a tech product and I can’t figure out why it was created. One great example of this was a two-handed mouse I was shown at large R&D-based company many years ago.

I was asked to review it to see if they should bring it to market. After trying to use it and viewing the complicated things you had to do to make it work, I told them it would never succeed. However, the engineer behind it was convinced he had created the next great mouse and was determined to try and get it to market. Thankfully, the management at this company killed it, as it would have been a complete failure and provided no real value to any customer. However, the technology was available to create it and this engineer did it because he could.

In the world of tech, most successful products address serious needs that people have. This is very much the case behind the current movement to create all types of wearable devices designed to make people healthier.

Folks behind products like the Jawbone Up, Nike Fuel, Fitbit and others have solid backgrounds in exercise and exercise science. They wanted to create stylish wearable products that could be used to monitor steps, count calories and track various other fitness metrics. Other products such as ones from iHealth, which has created a digital blood pressure device and a blood glucose testing kit that are tied to smartphones, were designed by people close to the health industry who saw a need to create products that could utilize digital technology to power new health monitoring tools.

At a personal level, I’m pleased that these folks are utilizing key technologies like accelerometers, sensors, Bluetooth low-energy radios and new types of semiconductors to create products that aim to impact people’s health. Readers of this column may remember that two years ago I suffered a heart attack and had a triple bypass. As you can imagine, this provided a serious wake up call to me about taking better care of myself. Since then, my Nike Fuelband has been my 24-hour wearable companion: I check its step-monitoring readout religiously to make sure I get the 10,000 steps in each day that my doctor has required of me as part of my recovery regimen.

While I would like to think that these tech folks are doing it for the altruistic reasons, the bottom line is that there is a lot of money to be made in health-related wearables. The folks from IHS published a good report last year on the market for wearables, which are mostly driven by health-related apps.

Most researchers that track this market believe that the wearable health market will represent at least $2 billion in revenue worldwide by 2018. In many developed countries around the world, people are becoming much more health conscious. Reports seem to come out daily, talking about the good or bad effects some foods have on our lives. And more and more, we hear that we need to exercise to either maintain our health or to improve it.

So a combination of the right technology becoming available and an increased awareness for better health has created this groundswell of health-related wearable devices and digital monitoring tools designed to help people have healthier lives. But there is another major reason that we are seeing more and more health-related wearables and digital monitoring products come to market now. This is driven by most healthcare providers and is one of their major initiatives: In simple terms, it’s cheaper to keep a person healthy than to cover their costs in the hospital when they’re sick.

Almost all the major health care providers have created web sites with all types of information about managing one’s health. These sites have information and programs for cancer patients, diabetics, and many other health issues that help people better manage these diseases. Health insurers are also really getting behind the various digital monitoring tools and health wearables, too, viewing them as vital tools that can help their customers stay healthier and keep them out of the hospital as much as possible.

Interestingly, as I talk to many of the executives of these health-related wearable companies, many of them claim to be on a mission. Yes, they admit there is money to be made, but most I speak with are serious about giving people the technology to help them keep themselves healthy. In fact, in at least two cases, the executives I have talked to have special funds they personally set aside to donate to major health causes as part of their personal commitment to using technology to make people healthier.

While there is some chatter about the market for wearable technology not being a sustainable one, I suspect that it will stay on track to eventually become integrated into everyday objects such as watches, hats and even clothes, becoming part of a broader trend called “self-health monitoring.” This trend basically says that people will want to have more and more information about calories the number of calories they’ve burned, the number of steps they’ve steps taken, their pulse and other metrics. Thanks to these new technologies, this data would be available to them in a variety of ways.

Of course, not everyone may want to know these health-related data points, but the research shows that at least one-fourth of U.S. adults have these types of health-related wearable monitoring devices on their personal radars. The fact that this market is growing around 20% or more each year suggests that we could continue to see growth for at least another three years. As these devices become part of our wardrobes, they could eventually fade into the background while still providing health-related info that many people may need to stay motivated. This is the goal that the tech world has embraced wholeheartedly, providing more and better tools for this purpose.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Music

This Is Spotify’s Ultimate Workout Playlist

The perfect jams to keep you motivated

Need some new tunes to listen to while attempting to fulfill your summer fitness goals? Well, here’s a handy playlist brought to you by the folks at Spotify and Billboard.

Billboard explains the not-super-scientific methodology that led to the curation of the list:

In order to put this list together, we at Billboard asked Spotify and their data science wing the Echo Nest to poll their 24 million users, and the one-and-a-half billion playlists those users have created, to generate the top songs people place in their exercise-related digital mixtapes.

With the data Spotify provided, Billboard created playlists for everything from crossfit to tae bo, but the above playlist is the ultimate roundup of general workout songs. Surprisingly, it does not exclusively consist of Top 40 hits. Here’s a breakdown:

Billboard

 

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