Memory Walks

[Written by Peter Nielsen].
 
Do your brain a favor … make walking a part of your regular routine! Evidence that regular walking benefits brain health continues to pile up. If you’re not a walker, this should convince you to start!
 
A recent study from The Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois involving 120 sedentary people aged 55-80 found that walking increased the size of the hippocampus, a critical area of the brain for new learning and creating long-term memories. Participants of the study had not engaged in more than 30 minutes of daily exercise in the six months before of the study; they then took part in exercise groups for a year. Half of the participants walked three days a week, starting out 10 minutes per day and increasing to 40 minutes per day as their fitness levels improved. The other half did stretching and toning exercises for the same amount of time.
 
Participants were assessed at the start of the study, at six months into the study, and at the end of the year for spatial memory, fitness levels, and levels of a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), an essential fuel for the growth of new neurons in the brain. They were also given brain scans to track physical changes.
 
The assessments showed that fitness levels for the walking group improved more than in the stretching and toning group. The walking group also had an increase in the size of the hippocampus. Spatial memory and levels of BDNF increased in both groups, but only the walking group was found to have increased the size of the hippocampus. Studies have shown that had the participants continued to be inactive for the year, their hippocampus would have shrunk by one to two per cent, while walking just three times a week boosted their memory and increased the size of their hippocampus.
 
While this study concentrated on walking, it is believed that any aerobic activity could offer the same benefits. If you can’t get out for a walk due to weather conditions try walking on a treadmill.
 
If a knee injuries get in the way of your walking routine, try weight-lifting. A study conducted by scientists at the University of British Columbia focused on women ages 70 to 80 with mild cognitive impairment. They found that after six months of exercise, either walking or weight training, the women performed better performance on cognitive tests than they had before. It is interesting that while both exercise groups improved almost equally on tests of spatial memory, the women who had walked showed greater gains in verbal memory than the women who had lifted weights.
 
So get out there and walk … you’ll build strength and memories!
 
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Walk Against Back Pain

[Written by Peter Nielsen].
 
At some point in their lives, 80% of Americans will suffer from back pain. It is the most common cause of job-related disability and is a leading contributor to missed work, costing Americans at least $50 billion each year in health care costs. Often, lower back pain goes away within a few days, but not all of us are that lucky! Now there’s good news if you or a loved one suffers from back pain!
 
New research shows that adopting a simple aerobic walking program that includes walking two to three times a week for a period of 20 to 40 minutes can be as effective to reduce lower back pain as strengthening rehabilitation programs that depend on specialized equipment in clinics. A walking regimen fits easily into a daily routine and offers people with back pain more control and more responsibility for their own health.
 
The study, published in the journal Clinical Rehabilitation, found that when people actively walk, the abdominal and back muscles work in basically the same way as when doing exercises that target those areas. Unlike muscle strengthening programs, which often call for specific equipment and can involve exercises that require expert supervision, and it is a simple activity that can be done alone.
 
The study included 52 patients with lower back pain who participated in a randomized control trial. At the onset of the research, participants were assessed for pain levels, feelings of disability, limitations on daily activities, and walking endurance. Half of the group completed a typical clinic-based muscle strengthening program, with two to three exercise sessions a week for six weeks. The other half completed a six-week aerobic walking program, walking two to three times weekly, starting with 20 minutes of walking and progressing to 40 minutes as their endurance improved. Both groups improved significantly in all areas, and the walking program was found to be as effective as clinical treatment. The walking program has the additional advantage of encouraging patients to follow an overall healthier lifestyle.
 
Spring will be here soon, what better time to take up a new walking program! It’s a great low-impact activity that lowers blood pressure, boosts brain and immune system functioning, and reduces stress. It can also save your back!
 
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Avoid The Holiday Blues

[Written by Peter Nielsen].
 
The final week before Christmas can incur an amazing amount of stress. ’Do I have presents for everyone?,’ ‘I’m really looking forward to Jerry’s party, but I’m just so tired.’ ‘I haven’t made cookies yet!’ ‘I really miss my mom … or my dad … or my sister.’ The joy and companionship enjoyed this time of year is a true blessing, but it can come with a price. You can minimize the stress that accompanies the holidays and enjoy them more than ever! You may even be able to spread a little more cheer!
 
• Be realistic. Set realistic expectations. We are barraged with ‘things’ we need for the ‘perfect’ holiday everywhere we go. Remember the true meaning of the holiday. Choose a few special traditions to continue and allow new ones into your lives. If you’re separated from loved ones during the holidays, celebrate together with videos and pictures. If you’re technically savvy, try opening your present together via Skype!
 
• Share the Peace on Earth. Set aside differences with family loved ones. Be patient and understanding if others are upset or distressed, or something doesn’t go as planned. The holidays may be even more stressful for those around you.
 
• Budget. Decide how much money you can afford to spend before you go shopping and stick to it! If times are difficult, give homemade gifts or baked goods. Donate to a friend or family member’s favorite charity in their name.
 
• Plan. Plan ahead for shopping, baking, and visiting. Make shopping lists for baking to avoid multiple last-minute trips to the store. If there are too many events for your schedule, plan on the important ones and take on the extra activities when you can enjoy them — and be enjoyable company!
 
• Pay attention to your health. Holidays can become a time of over-reaching self-indulgence. Get plenty of sleep and stay active…it will pay off in the long run.
 
• Take some time for yourself. Put aside a little time for rejuvenation … your loved ones will be thankful. Go for a long walk, relax with your favorite music or read that book you bought 2 weeks ago! After spending some time recharging yourself, you find yourself more productive — and lovable — than ever!
 
• Volunteer. Many charitable organizations are also suffering due to the economic downturn. Find a local charity, such as a soup kitchen or a shelter where you and your family can volunteer. Participate in a giving tree or an adopt-a-family program. Helping those who suffering may help you put your own struggles into perspective. Sharing the goodwill of the season is a good way to brighten the day for yourself and others.
 
• Accept your feelings. If you’re away from loved ones, or have recently lost someone close to you, it’s normal to feel sadness and grief, especially during the holidays. Take time to express your feelings. Look for community, religious or other social events.
 
Try a little planning and you’ll be amazed at how a little planning and positive thinking can help you find peace and joy during the holidays.
 
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Spring Into a New Walking Routine

[Written by Peter Nielsen].
 
Walking has increased in popularity as a method of exercise and transportation over the past few years. Statistics show that if you’re going somewhere within a mile of your home, chances are that you’ll walk … especially if you have either sidewalks or paved roads. Unfortunately, we’re still not walking – or taking part in other physical activities – enough. Walking is the most popular aerobic activity with approximately 6 in 10 adults reporting that they walked for at least 10 minutes in the previous week. That’s something, but ten minutes is definitely not enough. It’s spring, what a beautiful time of the year to begin a new walking routine!
 
Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh found that overweight people who walked briskly for 30 to 60 minutes a day lost weight even if they didn’t change any other lifestyle habits and researchers at the University of Colorado found that regular walking helped to prevent peripheral artery disease. Plus you get all the benefits of consistent aerobic exercise … and walking is one of the easiest forms of exercise. All you need is a good pair of shoes and the will to do it.
 
Where to start? A walking program is like any other activity, you need a plan to succeed. At the beginning you want to decide a basic goals for your walks and the methods you use to attain those goals. Then you can get to work!
 
Start slow. Walk for 10 minutes, and walk back every day for a week. If you’re comfortable after a week add five minutes to your walk. Continue adding 5 minutes to each walk until you reach your goal.
 
Hold your head up and eyes forward with your shoulders should be down and relaxed. Move forward with a natural stride.
 
Drink plenty of water before, during, and after walking. Start with a slow, warm -up pace, pause and do a few warm up / flexibilty stretches. Walk for the desired length of time or distance and end the walk with the slower cool down. After your walk, do some stretches.
 
Your walking pace should be fast enough that it’s hard to sing, yet slow enough that it’s to talk.
 
Make daily walking a habit. Walk fast enough to reach your target heart rate, but not so much that you are gasping and unable to breathe. Motivate yourself by keeping a journal.
 
According to the American Heart Association, walking for at least 30 minutes a day:
 
Reduces your risk of coronary heart disease.
Improves your blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Improves your blood lipid profile.
Helps maintain your body weight and lower the risk of obesity.
Enhances your mental well being.
Reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis.
Reduces the risk of developing breast and colon cancer.
Reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
 
Walking … it’s easy and so good for you!
 
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Sitting – A Dangerous Inactivity

[Written by Peter Nielsen].
 
We sit too much. On the average, we log in 9.3 hours a day sitting each day, more than we sleep! We sit in front of our computers, in front of the television and if we have a desk job we sit at work most of the day. According to a new research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, more than half of an average person’s day is spent being sedentary, resulting in higher risks of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and death, whether or not we regularly exercise. Sitting also adds to your belly fat!
 
The study also found that the negative effects of sitting time on health is greater for those who do little or no exercise compared to those who exercise regularly. The findings stress that reducing sitting time and getting regular exercise are vital for improving health. The authors suggestions? Reduce your sitting time from 1 to three hours a day in a 12-hour period.
 
Monitor your sitting times and set up achievable goals.
 
Whether you’re at work or at home, stand up and move for one or three minutes every half hour.
 
If your watching television, stand up and exercise during commercials.
 
There are many everyday activities that you can incorporate into your daily routines that will help cut your sitting time and keep moving!
 
• Walk! When you go out to the supermarket, post office, or even out to eat, park far away because all of those extra steps really add up!
 
• Make the most of your “down time.” Do leg lifts or bends while talking on the phone or put a stationary bike in front of the television. Jog in place while waiting for that pot of water to boil for dinner.
 
• Do a little bit of housework. Vacuuming, sweeping, and raking all work your arm and leg muscles. Just 10 minutes of each can burn almost 200 calories. You just added a half hour of exercise to your day — and your house will look great!
 
Get moving! Your life depends on it.
 
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Heat Up Those Creative Juices

[Written by Peter Nielsen].
 
We’ve often stressed that exercise and walking improve cognitive skills, both immediately and in the longer term. We already know that; we take a long walks to ‘get rid of the cobwebs’ after long work sessions, when we’re emotionally worn down or have a difficult problems to solve. Many studies support the idea that walking boosts brain health … now we know that boost includes the creative thought functions too!
 
New research demonstrates a clear correlation between walking and creative thinking. In a series of experiments, researchers from Stanford University in California compared levels of creativity in people while they were walking and while they were sitting. The study, which was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, found another great reason for walking as part of a well-rounded fitness regimen. It boosts your creativity!
 
Researchers from Stanford University conducted a series of four experiments that included 176 participants. The group was comprised of college students and other adults who walked or sat in outdoor and indoor environments. Participants were also asked to complete their walking and sitting sessions using a specific mix of walking and sitting. During the sessions, participants were engaged in tasks that are used to measure the creative thought process. The tasks all focused on divergent thinking creativity — coming up with ideas by thinking of multiple possible solutions – in three experiments. Answers were rated by originality and usefulness. The walkers ranked higher on divergent thinking creativity than when they were sitting! In one indoor experiment, the participants walked on a treadmill and scored an average of 60% higher on divergent thinking creativity than when they were sitting!
 
A fourth experiment tested a more complex type of creativity in which participants respond to simple cues with complex analogies. The study found that 100% of the participants walking outdoors came up with at least one high-quality complex analogy, compared with thinking of 50% high-quality complex analogies when they were sitting indoors!
 
Researchers are not sure exactly why a casual walk has such a strong effect on the creative thinking process, but you can add this to your list of reasons to take a walk.
 
Take a walk, you’ll be healthier, happier and more creative!
 
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