Smiles abound in the Midwest and throughout the country as things green up and warm up outdoors. Warm weather invites people to be more active, delighting in options that winter weather doesn’t afford. While playing and moving outside are enjoyable in themselves, recent research gives even more reasons. Here’s a glimpse of what participants learned from the many topics covered at the recent ACSM Health & Fitness Summit & Exposition. You might keep these in mind as you make plans to enjoy May, with the complementary themes of Physical Activity Month and Exercise is Medicine Month.
Sitting still is hazardous to your health
The new science of sedentary behavior, or “inactivity physiology,” provides sobering evidence that merely sitting can be hazardous to your health. Len Kravitz, Ph.D., reported on research by Dr. Steven Blair and others, showing that adults and children who spend 70 percent or more of each waking day working at a desk, riding in a car, watching TV or working at a computer are particularly at risk. He explained that sitting results in dramatic drops in lipoprotein lipase, which captures fat from blood and uses it as fuel. This leads to soaring levels of triglycerides, elevated risk of cardiovascular disease and lower levels of good cholesterol. I’ve seen how exercise improves all those conditions in my patients.
“Miracle-Gro for the brain”
Many of us love to garden, whether for exercise, aesthetics or nutrition. At the summit, Dr. Terry Eckmann appealed to that interest with a vivid simile for the boost that exercise gives to cognitive functioning, saying it’s “like Miracle-Gro for the brain.” A protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is behind the phenomenon. BDNF increases the growth of brain cells and improves brain functioning. The brain uses about 20 percent of the body’s supplies of oxygen and glucose, and exercise boosts the cardiovascular system’s ability to deliver them.
Worksite wellness pays off
Employers must tend to the bottom line. Those who implement worksite wellness programs are seeing healthy returns in terms of dollars saved, worker productivity, reduced absenteeism, and other measures. George J. Pfeiffer, president of the WorkCare Group, said most companies see a net return on investment in three to five years. For some, the ROI is as high as six-to-one. Pfeiffer and other panelists reviewed case studies from Target, Chevron, Northrop Grumman and Clark Security Products. Their key suggestions include:
- Value worksite wellness. Understand and communicate all the benefits of worksite wellness – financial and otherwise.
- Communicate a culture of health. Using formal and informal communication channels, develop a transparent brand for your health management strategy. Focus on vitality and well-being.
- Engage your organization from the top down and from the bottom up. Encourage employee engagement by getting buy-in from top and middle management. Also allow for employee volunteers to be your wellness champions within the company.
How can you observe Physical Activity Month at home, at work and elsewhere?