Two Hours Per Week in Nature helps Health & Wellbeing

Acupuncture in Exeter: two hours per week in nature helps health & wellbeing. Authors from the Universities of Exeter, Uppsala in Sweden and Michigan in the US, have collaborated to examine the effects of time spent in nature, on health and wellbeing.

Nearly 20 000 people were asked to report on their recreational nature contact. Compared to no nature contact, the likelihood of reporting good health or high wellbeing became significantly greater when contact exceeded a threshold of 120 minutes. Positive associations peaked between 200 and 300 minutes per week. This pattern was consistent across groups including older adults and those with long-term health issues. It also did not matter whether the 120 minutes was achieved in one long or several shorter blocks.

Acupuncture in Exeter: two hours per week in nature helps health & wellbeing. The researchers say one explanation for their findings may be that time spent in nature is a proxy for physical activity, and it is this which is driving the relationship, rather than nature contact itself. Although they tried to control for this by asking participants about physical activity, they were unable to completely separate one effect from another. Experimental research however, indicates that some benefits cannot be due solely to physical activity. Research into shinrin-yoku (Japanese “forest bathing”), suggests that various psycho-physiological benefits can be gained from merely sitting passively in natural settings.

(Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Scientific Reports, online 13 June 2019.)

Cycling and Health

Cycling and health. A new study on cycling and health undertaken across seven European cities reveals that it is the mode of transport associated with the greatest health benefits. Cyclists experience better self-perceived general health and better mental health.

The study was carried out in Antwerp, Barcelona, London, Örebro, Rome, Vienna and Zurich. A baseline questionnaire was completed by more than 8800 people, 3500 of whom also completed a final survey, on transport modes and perceptions of general health. The survey included questions on anxiety, depression, loss of emotional control, psychological well-being, vitality and perceived stress. The transport modes assessed were car, motorbike, public transport, bicycle, electric bicycle and walking.

The findings were that cycling yielded the best results in every analysis. Bicycles were associated with better self-perceived general health, better mental health, greater vitality, lower self-perceived stress and fewer feelings of loneliness. The second most beneficial transport mode, walking, was associated with good self-perceived general health, greater vitality, and more contact with friends and/or family.

Research in 2016 looked at the impact of cycling for commuting and recreation, on the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In this cohort study of Danish adults aged 50 to 65, those who reported higher weekly cycling mileages were less likely to develop diabetes; the effect was more pronounced in those who cycled to work.

Perhaps most interesting though was that those who took up cycling after the study began, also had a lower risk of developing diabetes than those who did not cycle. This suggests that it is not too late to access the benefits of cycling, even in the years approaching retirement.

(Barcelona Institute for Global Health, 13 August 2018.

Associations between Recreational and Commuter Cycling, Changes in Cycling, and Type 2 Diabetes Risk: A Cohort Study of Danish Men and Women. PLOS Medicine, 12 July 2016.)

Evening Meal by 9pm is Associated with Lower Breast & Prostate Cancer Risk

A new study from researchers in Barcelona, Spain suggests that people who eat their evening meal by 9pm or leave at least two hours between their meal and bedtime, can reduce their risk of breast and prostate cancer. Compared with those who eat after 10pm or who go to bed soon after eating, the reduction in risk is around 20%.

Breast and prostate cancers, besides being two of the most common cancers worldwide, are also among those most strongly associated with night-shift work, circadian disruption and alteration of biological rhythms. The study assessed each participant’s lifestyle and chronotype (an individual’s preference for morning or evening activity), and looked at 620 cases of prostate cancer and 1200 cases of breast cancer. The study author concludes that if the findings are confirmed, they will have implications for cancer prevention recommendations, which currently do not take meal timing into account. The impact could be especially important in cultures such as those of southern Europe, where people eat supper late.

(Effect of mistimed eating patterns on breast and prostate cancer risk (MCC-Spain Study). International Journal of Cancer, 17 July 2018.)

Physically Fit Women Less Likely to Develop Dementia

Research from Sweden: fitness and dementia. A new study on fitness and dementia from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden suggests women with high physical fitness in middle age are nearly 90% less likely to develop dementia decades later, compared with women who are moderately fit. If these highly fit women did develop dementia, they did so on average 11 years later than women who were moderately fit, or at age 90 instead of age 79.

“These findings are exciting because it’s possible that improving people’s cardiovascular fitness in middle age could delay or even prevent them from developing dementia,” said study author Helena Hörder. “However, this study does not show cause and effect between cardiovascular fitness and dementia, it only shows an association. More research is needed to see if improved fitness could have a positive effect on the risk of dementia and also to look at when during a lifetime a high fitness level is most important.”

For the study, 191 women, average age 50, took a bicycle exercise test to measure their peak cardiovascular capacity. A total of 40 women met the criteria for a high fitness level, 92 women were in the medium fitness category, and 59 women were low fitness.

Over the next 44 years, subjects were tested for dementia six times. During that period, 44 developed dementia: 5% of the highly fit women; 25% of moderately fit women: 32% of the women with low fitness. The highly fit women were 88% less likely to develop dementia than the moderately fit women.

Some women had to stop the original exercise test due to problems such as chest pain or high blood pressure; 45% of this group developed dementia.

(Neurology Journal, 14 March 2018 online.)

A Lifetime of Exercise Slows Down Ageing

Acupuncture in Exeter: A lifetime of exercise slows down ageing. Researchers at the University of Birmingham and King’s College London have found that staying active keeps the body young and healthy. They set out to assess the health of older adults who had been active most of their adult lives to see whether exercise slows down ageing.

The study recruited 125 amateur cyclists aged 55 to 79, 84 of whom were male and 41 were female. The men had to be able to cycle 100 km in under 6.5 hours, while the women had to be able to cycle 60 km in 5.5 hours. Smokers, heavy drinkers and those with high blood pressure or other health conditions were excluded from the study. Participants underwent a series of tests, and were compared to a group of adults who did not partake in regular physical activity. This group consisted of 75 healthy people aged 57 to 80 and 55 healthy young adults aged 20 to 36.

As expected, the study showed that loss of muscle mass and strength did not occur in those who exercised regularly. The cyclists also did not increase their body fat or cholesterol levels with age and the men’s testosterone levels remained high. More surprisingly though, the study revealed that the benefits of exercise extend beyond muscle as the cyclists had an immune system that did not seem to have aged either. An organ called the thymus, which makes immune cells called T cells, starts to shrink from the age of 20 and makes fewer T cells. In this study however, the cyclists’ thymuses were making as many T cells as those of a young person.

Professor Janet Lord, Director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham, said, “Hippocrates in 400 BC said that exercise is man’s best medicine, but his message has been lost over time and we are an increasingly sedentary society. Our research means we now have strong evidence that encouraging people to commit to regular exercise throughout their lives is a viable solution to the problem that we are living longer but not healthier.”

Norman Lazarus, Emeritus Professor at King’s College London and Dr Ross Pollock, who undertook the muscle study, suggested, “Find an exercise that you enjoy in whatever environment that suits you and make a habit of physical activity. You will reap the rewards in later life by enjoying an independent and productive old age.”

(Properties of the vastus lateralis muscle in relation to age and physiological function in master cyclists aged 55–79 years. Aging Cell, 8 March 2018.

Major features of Immunesenescence, including Thymic atrophy, are ameliorated by high levels of physical activity in adulthood. Aging Cell, 8 March 2018.)