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Children's Fitness Falls In Summer

>> Thursday, July 13, 2017

You'd think that summertime would be a time of peak physical fitness for kids, right?  The weather is great, the days are long, school is out, and there is nothing but time for just being a kid... running, jumping, playing all day long.

Think again.

study in the UK, which was presented recently at the Congress of the European College of Sport Science, tracked the fitness of over 400 children for just over a year.  They found that at the start of the school year in September, kids were not able to run as far as they could at the end of the prior school term in June.   They also found that body mass index (BMI) climbed between June and September (though BMI percentile would be the more appropriate measure).  The decrease in fitness was particularly evident in kids from areas of lower socioeconomic status.

These findings suggest that kids may be more often spending their summer holidays being inactive, perhaps in front of the TV or video games rather than being active in the great outdoors.  Active child care activities during the summer (eg summer camps) can be costly, so kids from less affluent homes may have less access to organized activities.

If you're having trouble keeping your young ones active this summer, here are some suggestions:

  • Limit screen time.  Kids will find other things to do that are likely more active.
  • Check out your local community facilities, parks and pools to see what is on offer.  
  • Enjoy the warm weather and bright evenings with a family walk or bike ride! 
  • Consider signing your kids up for a race (eg family fun run, or even a kids' triathlon!) and get them engaged to train for it.  

Follow me on twitter! @drsuepedersen © 2017


An 86 Year Old Ironman Inspiration!

>> Thursday, August 25, 2016

In line with last week's post about the amazing Olympic athletes, here's a woman who inspires me to the ends of the earth - meet Madonna Buder, who holds the world record for the oldest person to ever complete an Iron Man triathlon, at the age of... 82!

Buder caught the triathlon bug a little later in life, completing her first triathlon at age 52 and her first Ironman at age 56.  She has completed over 325 triathlons, including 45 Ironman distances (an Ironman is a 3860m swim, 180km bike, followed up by a 42km marathon run).

Now 86 years old, Buder is an inspiration to athletes everywhere, and was even featured in a Nike ad that was aired during the Olympics.

Way to go!!  Thanks so much to my friend Chantelle for telling me about this amazing woman.

Follow me on twitter! @drsuepedersen © 2016


Olympic Games - Best Weight At All Sizes

>> Wednesday, August 17, 2016

It has been a real inspiration and thrill to watch the elite athletes of the world compete at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games.  Over the last couple of weeks, we have enjoyed watching a wide range of sports, from swimming, to basketball, to gymnastics, to track & field, and so much more.

Take a moment and consider the variation in body shapes and sizes amongst this year's incredible athletes:

Each of these sports have a fierce demand for the highest level of physical ability, the nature of which is unique to each individual sport.  Some require intense upper body strength, while others are more lower body oriented; some high anaerobic capacity; others are all about endurance.

I see a similar diversity in body shape and size in the athletes in my clinical practice as an endocrinologist: marathoners, crossfitters, cyclists, swimmers, football players, and so many others.  The sad reality is that those who are of larger body size will often tell me that they feel judged and assumed to be inactive or 'lazy' based on their shape and size by people who have absolutely no idea what that person is all about.

There is no more poignant reminder than watching these incredible Olympic athletes to never judge a book by its cover.

Follow me on twitter! @drsuepedersen © 2016


Do Electric Assist Bikes Count As Exercise?

>> Thursday, August 11, 2016

While highly frowned upon when snuck into the Tour de France (are you kidding me?!), electric bikes can be a very useful piece of equipment to zip around town.  These are bicycles that are equipped with electrical assistance, which is activated only when the rider is actively pedalling.  You may wonder – does using these bikes still count as exercise?  A recent study tells us – yes!

The study, published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, enrolled 20 people who led sedentary lifestyles, and evaluated several measures of health after 4 weeks of using the electrically assisted bike for at least 40 minutes, three days per week. 

They found that using the ‘pedelec’ bikes provided a moderate level of exertion, similar to walking (4.9 METs on average).  After just 4 weeks, there was an improvement in their glucose tolerance, and an increase in their power output and VO2max (a measure of maximal aerobic capacity).    Participants also found the bikes to be fun, to the point where over half of participants ended up cycling over 50% more than the required amount.

So, while using a regular bicycle would provide more exercise, a pedelec bike is a great option for people who have knee problems, struggle to get uphill on a bike, or if you want to get further in a day than you otherwise would on a regular bike.  (We used them on a trip Kyoto last year so we could make it to all the far flung temples we wanted to see – fantastic!)    Pedelecs remove the potential deterrents of cycling such as longer distances or hills, and they can be incorporated into daily life as a means of transport when the weather/climate permits (rather than having to find specific extra time in the day to exercise).  

Follow me on twitter! @drsuepedersen © 2016


Does Exercise Improve Fatty Liver Disease?

>> Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is a potential consequence of carrying excess body weight, and is essentially caused by extra fat being stored in the liver. It is the third most common cause of liver cirrhosis, and affects up to 30% of the world’s population. 

Weight loss has been clearly established as the first line treatment for NAFLD, and we know that most successful weight loss strategies focus most attention on reducing calorie intake, with exercise playing only a minor part.  However, we know that exercise can have many cardiometabolic benefits even if a person doesn’t lose weight because of it, so it would be interesting to know if exercise itself could improve NAFLD.

A study was recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine which addresses this question.  In the study, 220 participants with NAFLD were randomly assigned to moderate exercise (brisk walking for 30 mins, 5 days per week) for a year, vigorous exercise for 6 months followed by moderate exercise for 6 months, or no additional exercise for a year.

They found that moderate and vigorous exercise were equally effective to reduce fat content in the liver, and that most (but not all) of the effect was mediated by weight loss. 

So, while actual reduction in weight remains the key factor in improving fatty liver, exercise may play some role even if the exercise itself doesn’t shed a whole bunch of pounds.  And it is good news that moderate activity is just as good as intense activity, as moderate exercise regimens like walking are more likely to be adhered to in the long run.

Follow me on twitter! @drsuepedersen © 2016


The Pokémon Go Revolution - What Public Policy Couldn't Do

>> Thursday, July 21, 2016

We've all seen it: Pokémon Go users are everywhere!  Since it's launch earlier this month, we have seen people everywhere, more enraptured by their smart phones than ever before, playing the game with a joyous enthusiasm.

The engagement in Pokémon Go is paying off in physical activity.  Tracking devices such as Jawbone have seen a major increase in physical activity since the game was launched:

We have never seen any public policy or population based strategy have such an incredible effect on physical activity.  I had a patient in my office this week (who had just found a Pokémon under my examination table) tell me that the game had caused her family's 15 minute walk to turn into a 45 minute adventure where the family enjoyed extra fun time together, and a whole lot more exercise! These stories are abundant on social media.  So cool!

I felt like a massive LED light went on in my brain when I heard about this game - of course!  What a great way to motivate activity, by blending a fun smartphone game with real life exercise.  While this particular game may be a fad, I'm sure that other games are now in hot pursuit to develop the next ones.  I hope that this is the beginning of what may be one of the most successful (and hopefully sustainable) population level 'interventions' to motivate physical activity.

A note to be careful when using this or other games - there have been reports of people falling off of cliffs and standing in freeways playing the game, or playing the game in sensitive places like graveyards - do be careful and mindful when you are enjoying your Pokémon Go adventures.

Follow me on twitter! @drsuepedersen © 2016


(In)Accuracy of Your Wrist Technology for Estimating Calorie Burn

>> Thursday, July 7, 2016

There are many different kinds of wrist technology out there - Garmin, FitBit, and Jawbone UP just to name a few.   In response to concerns that these devices may not be accurate to measure energy burn, researchers have now conducted a study to test how accurate they are.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, examined several brands of wearable energy tracking technology, and compared them to gold standard research methods of measuring energy burn, including both a standardized day (indirect calorimetry using metabolic chamber) and fifteen free living days (doubly labeled water method).  Brands studied included the Garmin VivoFit, Jawbone UP24, and FitBit Flex.

They found that these wearable devices were overall quite inaccurate, with inaccuracies ranging as high as 590 calories per day. !  Most of the inaccuracies were underestimates of caloric needs, while some overestimated needs.

So does this mean that these devices are totally useless?  No.  They can be great motivation for keeping track of daily activity and steps taken per day (pedometer) - though there are inaccuracies here as well.  But I do see a lot of people with weight struggles feeling frustrated that they seem to be burning way more calories (according to their device) than the food they are eating, yet they are not losing weight.   Overall, the biggest benefit of these devices is probably motivation to move, and keeping us engaged in mindful eating (ie we think more about what we are eating if we are keeping track of it).

Follow me on twitter! @drsuepedersen © 2016


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