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Health Notes: Health risks updated, exercise trends not improved, exercise and teens

In our latest “Health Notes” look at recent research on health and activity, we summarize studies about how you get older faster if you take part in unhealthy behaviors, we find data on exercise trends (not good), and we look at how exercise helps obese teens.

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You want information about health, physical activity, exercise and wellness, but you don’t want all the techno-science garble that makes most reports overwhelming to read, let alone understand or pass on to customers. In SNEWS® Health Notes, an occasional series, we take a look at recent research that is pertinent to your business and explain it in a way that makes sense. If you have suggestions or comments, let us know by emailing

>> Getting older faster with unhealthy behaviors

Lack of physical activity is one of four unhealthy behaviors that can age you a lot faster than your healthy counterparts. Smoking, poor diet and excess alcohol consumption, as well as a lack of physical activity, are all associated with increased risks of heart disease, certain cancers, premature aging and, of course, early death.

Early by as many as 12 years, according to a recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Who wants to even seem 12 years older than counterparts?

Researchers tracked nearly 5,000 individuals in the United Kingdom for 20 years, noting who died and who had what behaviors, controlling for other behaviors. Each additional risky behavior increased the risk of death during the two decades, researchers found. Individuals with four risky behaviors compared with zero poor health behaviors had about three times the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease or cancer, four times the risk of dying from other causes and an overall death risk equivalent to being 12 years older.

“Modest but achievable adjustments to lifestyle behaviors are likely to have a considerable impact at both the individual and population level,” the authors concluded.

“Developing more efficacious methods by which to promote healthy diets and lifestyles across the population should be an important priority of public health policy.”

So what? This exercise stuff isn’t just about looking good; it’s also about not dying early, as well as feeling healthier for longer. Who wants to have the risk and life of somebody who is a dozen years older?

For the scientifically minded: The study appeared in the April 26, 2010, issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine (2010; 170 [8]:711-718). An abstract is available at no charge to the public by clicking here

>> Downward trend in leisure-time physical activity with age

According to the most recent release of data in ongoing CDC studies, the rate of participation in leisure-time physical activity shows less healthy activity as one ages.

The latest data, summarizing adult behavior from 2005 to 2007 released this spring, takes a look at estimates for alcohol use, cigarette smoking, physical activity, body weight and sleep habits among U.S. adults. The survey also shows estimates by age, gender, race, education, poverty status, marital status and geographic region.

Overall, less than two-thirds (60.3 percent) of adults engaged in at least some physical activity with less than a third (30.7 percent) engaging in any activity sufficient in frequency and duration to be called regular. In addition, overall:

  • Almost four in 10 adults (39.7 percent) engaged in no activity.
  • About one in five adults (21.9 percent) engaged in some light-to-moderate activity at least five times a week.
  • About one in eight adults (11.1 percent) engaged in vigorous activity at least five times a week.
  • About a quarter of adults took part in some strengthening activity.

In addition, men are more likely than women to be active, and the younger you are, the more likely you are to be active: About a third of adults 18-24 (66.3 percent) took part in “at least some” activity compared to 39.6 percent of those 75 and older.

And if you live in the South, you’re even less likely to be active, the report found.

So what? We in the United States still have a lot to work on, particularly in aging populations or among those who are less educated.

For the scientifically minded: If you want to read through all the stats, you can find the 143-page report in PDF form by clicking here.

>> Exercising teens less effected by “obesity gene”

Doing an hour or more of some kind of physical activity daily by adolescents has been linked with controlling body weight even among those who are genetically predisposed to obesity, a researcher has concluded.

“There is compelling evidence that human obesity is a multifactorial disorder where both genes and lifestyle factors, including diet and physical activity, are important contributors,” the authors wrote as background information in the article.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently released updated guidelines recommending that children and adolescents participate in physical activity for 60 minutes per day or longer, with most exercise being of moderate to vigorous intensity. To see if this level of physical activity could reduce the effects of mutations in the gene on body fat, researchers studied 752 adolescents who were part of a cross-sectional study in 10 European countries between October 2006 and December 2007.

Among participants who met the daily physical activity recommendations, the effect of the gene mutation was much lower, accounting for a lower body mass index, lower body fat, and lower waist circumference. 

“These findings have important public health implications and indicate that meeting the physical activity recommendations may offset the genetic predisposition to obesity,” the authors wrote.

So what? Even adolescents who are overweight or obese can benefit from exercise.

For the scientifically minded: The full study was published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine (2010; 164[4]:328-333). The abstract can be accessed free of charge to the public by clicking here.

–Therese Iknoian