Tag: exercise

Having No Audience Slows Male Athletes but Boosts Females

Source: Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels


Researchers have found that having no audience present made men run slower, but helped women run faster.

The new study by Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) examined the effect of an audience on performance of athletes at the 2020 Biathlon World Cup. According to the new analysis, women also performed better in complex tasks, such as shooting, when an audience was present while men did not.

According to social facilitation theory, a person’s performance is impacted if other people watch them. Merely having an audience improves the performance of simple tasks, especially those requiring stamina: and it is surprisingly hard to circumvent. One study showed that ‘virtual’ bystanders did not have the same effect as having real bystanders in firefighter’s performance in training tasks.

“The studies have been relatively clear so far, but the results are more heterogeneous when it comes to more complex coordinative tasks,” explains Amelie Heinrich from the Institute of Sports Science at MLU. Generally the assumption is that performance tends to drop when an audience is present.

Heinrich is a sports psychology expert who coaches Germany’s junior biathlon squad, and took advantage of the unique conditions created by COVID. “The pandemic offers a unique opportunity to study an audience’s influence outside of experimental conditions in the real world,” said Heinrich, who compared the running times and shooting successes of male and female biathletes from the 2018/2019 season with their performances in the 2020 season in the sprint and mass start events.

“The men’s results were as expected: they ran faster with an audience present, but performed more poorly in shooting,” noted Heinrich. Cross-country skiing mainly requires stamina while shooting is a coordinative task. 

“Interestingly, it was the other way around for women.” With spectators present they ran slower, but on average, it took them an entire second less to make their shot and, at least in the sprint, their scoring performance was five per cent higher. The researchers argue that it is not just due to fluctuation in the athletes’ performance; with 83 (sprint) and 34 (mass start) World Cup biathletes, the study has a good basis for evidence, and the same tendency was seen in both disciplines.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time that a study was able to show a different effect of the audience on men and women,” noted Professor Oliver Stoll, head of the sports psychology section at MLU. Most previous research focused on men. “Our study raises questions about the generalisability of the social facilitation theory and indicates there might be a previously unknown difference between men and women,” said Heinrich, adding that more research in sports with coordination and stamina is needed.

Thus far, the researchers can only speculate about the reasons for the possible gender-specific performance differences in response to audiences or the lack of. “It is possible that gender-specific stereotypes play a role,” said Heinrich. Men have a stereotype that they should be strong, while studies have shown that women are more sensitive to feedback. In any case, Heinrich concluded, this underscores the need to account for gender in studying psychological effects.

Source: Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

Journal information: Heinrich A. et al. Selection bias in social facilitation theory? Audience effects on elite biathletes’ performance are gender-specific. Psychology of Sports and Exercise (2021). Doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2021.101943

Lifestyle Changes Shown to Reduce Risk of Dementia

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

After almost two decades, a new drug for Alzheimer’s disease has been approved in the US. However, some experts say it doesn’t really work — only treating amyloid plaques which are thought to cause the disease — and worry that it may cost a lot.

The amount of attention around this news reflects the importance of preventing dementia, with its devastating toll on families and patients. But millions of adults could lower their chances of needing such a drug by taking preventative measures.

That’s why a national panel of experts including the University of Michigan’s Deborah Levine, MD, MPH, recently published a guide for primary care providers on this topic as an official Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association.

People dread Alzheimer’s disease, she said. Helping people understand that they can prevent or slow future dementia by taking specific steps now could motivate them to increase their healthy behaviours for a positive effect.

The first step is to recognise that dementia risk is higher among people with seven major modifiable risk factors.

These are: depression, hypertension, physical inactivity, diabetes, obesity, hyperlipidaemia, poor diet, smoking, social isolation, excessive alcohol use, sleep disorders and hearing loss. Addressing each of these factors can, to varying extents, help reduce the risk of developing dementia, a fact backed by decades of research.

The second step is using medication, lifestyle change and other interventions to help patients reduce their dementia risk.

“Dementia is not inevitable,” said Dr Levine, a primary care provider at the University of Michigan Health, part of Michigan Medicine. “Evidence is growing that people can better maintain brain health and prevent dementia by following healthy behaviours and controlling vascular risk factors.”

These strategies can help preserve cognitive function and lower risk for heart attacks and strokes, said Dr Levine, who heads the Cognitive Health Services Research Program and sees patients at the Frankel Cardiovascular Center.

“We need to address the significant disparities that lead women, Black, Hispanic and less-educated Americans to have a much higher risk of dementia,” said Levine, a member of the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

She added that it’s never too late in life to start working on cognitive risk factor control.

“We have no treatments that will halt dementia – so it’s important to protect your brain health.”

Source: University of Michigan

Lifestyle Interventions Reverse the DNA Methylation Ageing ‘Clock’

Source: Pixabay/CC0

The results of a clinical trial showed that appropriate diet and exercise are able, to some extent, to reverse the DNA methylation ageing ‘clock’.

Lead author Kara Fitzgerald, ND IFMCP, at The Institute for Functional Medicine, explained: “Advanced age is the largest risk factor for impaired mental and physical function and many non-communicable diseases including cancer, neurodegeneration, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”

Methylation clocks are based on systematic methylation changes with age. DNAmAge clock specifically demonstrates about 60% of CpG sites losing methylation with age and 40% gaining methylation.

The researchers conducted a randomised controlled clinical trial conducted among 43 healthy adult males between the ages of 50-72. The 8-week treatment programme included diet, sleep, exercise and relaxation guidance, and supplemental probiotics and phytonutrients.

Genome-wide DNA methylation analysis was conducted on saliva samples using the Illumina Methylation Epic Array and DNAmAge was calculated using the online Horvath DNAmAge clock tool.

The researchers found that the diet and lifestyle treatment resulted in a 3.23 years decrease in DNAmAge compared with controls.

With a strong trend to significance, DNAmAge of those in the treatment group decreased by an average 1.96 years by the end of the program compared to those individuals’ baseline.

Nearly a quarter of the DNAmAge CpG sites are located in glucocorticoid response elements, indicating a likely relationship between stress and accelerated ageing. Cumulative lifetime stress has been shown to be linked to accelerated ageing of the methylome.

Other findings include that PTSD contributes to accelerated methylation age; and that greater infant distress is associated with an underdeveloped, younger epigenetic age.

The researchers tentatively accepted the hypothesis that the methylation pattern, from which the DNAmAge clock is computed, is a driver of ageing, thus they expect that attempting to directly influence the DNA methylome using diet and lifestyle to set back DNAmAge should lead to a healthier, more ‘youthful’ metabolism.

The Fitzgerald Research Team concluded, “it may be that emerging ‘omics’ approaches continue to evolve our understanding of biological age prediction and reversal beyond DNA methylation alone. Integration of our future understanding of multi-omics data should therefore be considered in the future trials of candidate age-delaying interventions.”

Source: Aging

Journal information: Fitzgerald, K. N., et al. (2021) Potential reversal of epigenetic age using a diet and lifestyle intervention: a pilot randomized clinical trial. AGING-US. doi.org/10.18632/aging.202913.

School Closures in NC and All School Contact Sports Suspended

As South Africa awaits an impending third wave, twenty-eight schools in the Northern Cape have had to close as a result of COVID cases this month, while all school contact sports are being suspended.

While infections are on the rise in most provinces, Northern Cape has 314 patients in hospital with COVID, according to information from the National Institute for Communicable diseases.

“Since 1 May we can report that 28 schools in the Province have been directly affected due to COVID-19 cases,” the department said in a statement on Wednesday.

The department said that those schools were closed for disinfecting and those who were infected with COVID were isolated.

“To date, 13 schools still remain closed and will reopen once it is safe to do so. The department also recorded from 1 May to date, 124 positive cases that were reported at schools thus impacting on valuable learning and teaching time being lost.”

Four schools in the small town of Calvinia were also closed earlier this year to contain rapidly spreading COVID infections.

The provincial education department’s Geoffrey van der Merwe called on communities to be even more vigilant and follow COVID safety protocols.

“District offices developed recovery plans for these schools to ensure that the academic performance of learners are not negatively affected,” he said.

Since the second phase of the programme kicked off this week, a mere 329 people in the province have so far received a COVID vaccine shot. So far approximately 9500 healthcare workers in the Northern Cape have been vaccinated.

No more rugby

Meanwhile, all contact sport at South African schools has been suspended with immediate effect.

This was decided on by the Council of Education Ministers  in a virtual meeting held on Wednesday morning .

However, the Department of Basic Education said non-contact sport training in schools could continue, on the condition that all social distancing, hygiene and safety measures would be adhered to and that there was no physical contact between participants during training.

Source: Eyewitness News

Pink Drinks Make You Run Faster

A new study led by the shows that sweetened pink drinks — purely as a result of their colour — can help people run faster and further compared to clear sweetened drinks.

The study, led by Centre for Nutraceuticals in the University of Westminster, found that a pink drink can raise exercise performance by 4.4% and can also bolster a ‘feel good’ effect, possibly making exercise seem less difficult. The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.

This marks the first investigation to assess the effect of drink colour on exercise performance and could open up a new avenue of future research in the field of sports drinks and exercise. Interest in colour and exercise performance had already resulted in studies, such as wearing red-coloured glasses during exercise which were found to raise testosterone but not performance.

The study involved asking participants to run on a treadmill for 30 minutes at a self-selected pace, ensuring a consistent exertion. Throughout the exercise they rinsed their mouths with either a pink artificially sweetened low-calorie drink or a clear drink which was also artificially sweetened and low-calorie.

The drinks were identical in every respect aside from the addition of pink colouration to the one. Pink was selected as it is associated with perceived sweetness, therefore increasing expectations of sugar and carbohydrate intake.

In prior research, it was found that rinsing the mouth with carbohydrates can improve exercise performance by reducing the perceived exercise intensity, so the researchers wanted to see whether rinsing with a pink drink with no carbohydrate stimulus could create a similar result through the placebo effect.

The results show that the participants ran an average 212 metres further with the pink drink while their mean speed during the exercise test also increased by 4.4 %. Feelings of pleasure were also improved, meaning participants found running more enjoyable.

Additional investigations will be needed to understand whether the proposed placebo effect causes a similar activation to the reward areas of the brain that are commonly reported when rinsing the mouth with carbohydrates. 

“The influence of colour on athletic performance has received interest previously, from its effect on a sportsperson’s kit to its impact on testosterone and muscular power,”  said corresponding author Dr Sanjoy Deb, University of Westminster. “Similarly, the role of colour in gastronomy has received widespread interest, with research published on how visual cues or colour can affect subsequent flavour perception when eating and drinking.

“The findings from our study combine the art of gastronomy with performance nutrition, as adding a pink colourant to an artificially sweetened solution not only enhanced the perception of sweetness, but also enhanced feelings of pleasure, self-selected running speed and distance covered during a run.”

Source: News-Medical.Net

Journal information: Brown, D. R., et al. (2021) Mouth Rinsing With a Pink Non-caloric, Artificially-Sweetened Solution Improves Self-Paced Running Performance and Feelings of Pleasure in Habitually Active Individuals. Frontiers in Nutrition. doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2021.678105.

Hiking Prescribed for Elderly Man Coping with Lockdown

When Jim Snodgrass, 84, was expecting to receive medication to treat his anxiety, he instead was simply given the phone number for the Ramblers, a UK-based society of nature walkers and hikers.

Dr Victor Jack said that he recognised that Jim needed “social connection” and not medication. Hiking itself also has a number of proven physical and psychological health benefits. Some may be immediate, such as decreased blood pressure, decreased stress levels, enhanced immune system functioning, and restored attention, or else occur over time, such as weight loss, decreased depression, and overall wellness.

During the first COVID lockdown in March 2020, Jim was on his own since his wife Sheila died six years previously, said he suffered a breakdown.

The grandfather-of-two said: “I was not feeling good as I was bothered with my nerves so I called the doctor and that’s when I burst into tears on the phone to the receptionist.

“She was so nice to me and got the doctor to call me. I was surprised when he didn’t give me any pills and instead gave me the number for the Ramblers.”

During lockdown doctors could give exemptions to people who lived on their own to meet one other person outside. Then last summer people were allowed to meet in groups to walk.

Presently in the UK, groups of 15 people are allowed to meet outside.

He said: “The Ramblers saved me during the last year of lockdowns. I don’t know where I would be without them with my nerves. Within two miles of walking I’m a different person. Dr Jack is an amazing man as he has saved me from my nerves in the lockdowns with this idea of his.”

Jim has walked 6.4 to 8 kilometres a day in the last year.

He said: “I even went out when the roads were icy and always stayed within a five mile radius of South Queensferry during the lockdowns. I hope my story helps someone else who is feeling bad so they know to join their local Ramblers group too.”

Dr Jack, of South Queensferry Medical Practice, told BBC Scotland his own experience with stress was used to inform Jim’s treatment.

“When Jim told me he liked walking but that he had been walking on his own I was aware that he was actually quite socially isolated as his wife had died,” Dr Jack explained. “He was benefitting from the physical part of walking but not the social side. A few years ago I joined a running club and found it very helpful for stress. This has made me recognise that any sports club has a benefit particularly through the social connection it provides.”

Dr Jack said he had seen numerous patients experiencing mental health issues during the lockdown, especially in those working from home.

Brendan Paddy, director of Ramblers Scotland, said: “Jim is truly an inspiration to us all. It’s amazing to see how he’s improved his health and happiness by getting active with his local South Queensferry Ramblers group.

“Clearly lockdown has been a hugely challenging time, yet we know that many more people like Jim are discovering the revitalising power of walking – with booming numbers enjoying Scotland’s outdoors. I’d urge anyone who’d like a bit more adventure, friendship and fresh air in their lives, to give the Ramblers a go.”

Source: BBC News

With Advanced ‘Vaporfly’ Shoes, Female Runners Close Gap with Males

Female and male runners in starting positions. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

A new paper found that Nike’s advanced ‘Vaporfly’ footwear reduced running times for both elite male and female competitors.

The introduction of the controversial Nike ‘Vaporfly’ shoes saw world records being broken and a marathon run in under two hours, prompting a review and subsequent ban on the high-tech shoes.

The study compared seasonal best times for elite male and female runners in three race categories—10 kilometres, half marathon and marathon races—from 2012 to 2019. Analysis showed a statistically significant decrease in race times after 2017, which coincided with the premiere of the Nike ‘Vaporfly’.

Female elite athletes appeared to gain the most benefit from the design improvement, which features a thicker, lighter foam and rigid plate along the midsole. Their seasonal best times between 2016 and 2019 fell anywhere from 1.7 to 2.3%, versus 0.6 to 1.5% for the men. In marathons, the new shoe technology improved times for females by about 2 minutes and 10 seconds, a 1.7% percent boost in performance.

“As far as chronometric performance is concerned, it is in our opinion a major advancement,” said lead author Dr Stéphane Bermon, director of the World Athletics Health and Science Department.

How the performance has been achieved is still mostly a mystery. The new shoe technology uses the latest generation of lightweight foam in the midsole, which provides the runner with a higher energy return. The embedded stiff plate in the midsole also contributes to maximising energy return in each step. The net effect is to propel the runner forward with greater ease.

The statistical gap between genders was unexpected, said Dr Bermon. One advantage could come down to weight between the sexes.

“Women are lighter and could possibly benefit more from the enhanced rebound effect achieved by the foam/stiff plate combination,” he said. “Their slightly different running pattern, compared to men, could represent a more favorable condition for this footwear technology to play its ergogenic role.”

A previous 2018 statistical analysis had already suggested a 3 to 4% decrease in half marathon and marathon race times based on hundreds of thousands of self-reported results. However, the present study was the first to compare the top seasonal best times for elite athletes.

While East African runners, like Ethiopian and Kenyan, make up the majority of the results as they have come to dominate the sport, the paper noted that non-East-African elite runners showed similar improvements in performance.

“These results confirm that advanced footwear technology has benefits to the elite male and female distance runners,” Dr Bermon said. “Whether this technology will be banned or simply controlled, as it is currently, is still to be decided by World Athletics.”

No immediate follow-up studies are planned, though Dr Bermon said additional research is needed into injury rates with the new footwear with mass adoption.

Source: Medical Xpress

Journal information: Stéphane Bermon et al, Effect of Advanced Shoe Technology on the Evolution of Road Race Times in Male and Female Elite Runners, Frontiers in Sports and Active Living (2021). DOI: 10.3389/fspor.2021.653173

Safety Commission Warns on Peloton Treadmill Hazard to Children

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has put out a warning for owners of the popular Peloton Tread+ exercise machine following “multiple incidents of small children and a pet being injured beneath the machines.”

The warning comes weeks after Peloton CEO John Foley said a child died in an accident related to the machine. “While we are aware of only a small handful of incidents involving the Tread+ where children have been hurt, each one is devastating to all of us at Peloton, and our hearts go out to the families involved,” he said in a statement.

As a result, the CPSC launched an investigation into the treadmill, one that the commission says remains ongoing. The commission reported that it is aware of 38 other non-fatal safety incidents involving the device.
In the commission’s view, the Peloton Tread+ “poses serious risks to children for abrasions, fractures, and death” resulting from “children becoming entrapped, pinned, and pulled under the rear roller of the product.”

The announcement included a video of a child seemingly pulled underneath the treadmill while playing behind the machine.

The CPSC is advising those with children at home to stop using the Peloton Tread+ treadmill immediately and says that the hazard the machine imposes “cannot be avoided simply by locking the device when not in use.”

“Peloton has not yet agreed to do a recall or a stop sale,” Consumer Product Safety Commission spokesperson Joe Martyak told NPR. He continued, “We hope that will change.”

Generally, product recalls are done on a voluntary basis by companies, in concert with government.

Peloton responded to the CPSC, saying the warning was “inaccurate and misleading.”

“Like all motorized exercise equipment, the Tread+ can pose hazards if the warnings and safety instructions are not followed,” the company said. In response to further questions from NPR about a possible recall, a spokesperson for the company said “a recall has never been warranted.”

The spokesman added that, “The Peloton Tread+ is safe when operated as directed and in accordance with the warnings and safety instructions.”.

Source: NPR

Mental Health and Physical Activity Impacted by Pandemic

A study from McMaster University suggests that mental health has become both a barrier to and a motivator for physical activity.

Surveying over 1600 subjects, the researchers sought to understand the ways mental health, physical activity and sedentary behaviour have changed throughout the course of the pandemic and why. Their findings show that people want to be active to improve their mental health but find exercise difficult because of stress and anxiety. Previous research indicates that physical activity can contribute to the treatment of depression, while sedentary behaviour has a strong negative impact.
“Maintaining a regular exercise program is difficult at the best of times and the conditions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic may be making it even more difficult,” said lead author Jennifer Heisz, associate professor at the Department of Kinesiology, McMaster University.

“Even though exercise comes with the promise of reducing anxiety, many respondents felt too anxious to exercise. Likewise, although exercise reduces depression, respondents who were more depressed were less motivated to get active, and lack of motivation is a symptom of depression,” she said.

The survey respondents reported higher psychological stress and moderate levels of anxiety and depression due to the pandemic. Their weekly aerobic activity reduced about 20 minutes, strength training down roughly 30 minutes, and sedentary time per day was up about 30 minutes per day compared to six months prior to the pandemic. Physical activity may have exerted a protective effect, as those with the greatest drops in physical activity had the worst mental health outcomes, while those who kept their physical activity levels the same level fared better in terms of mental health. 
Notably, economic disparities played a role, the researchers found, especially among younger adults.

“Just like other aspects of the pandemic, some demographics are hit harder than others and here it is people with lower income who are struggling to meet their physical activity goals,” said co-lead author Maryam Marashi, a graduate student in the Department of Kinesiology. “It is plausible that younger adults who typically work longer hours and earn less are lacking both time and space which is taking a toll.”

After the researchers analysed the data, the researchers produced a guideline to help people become more physically active:

  • Adopt a mindset: Some exercise is better than none.
  • Lower exercise intensity if feeling anxious.
  • Move a little every day.
  • Break up sedentary time with standing or movement breaks.
  • Plan your workouts like appointments by blocking off the time in your calendar.

“Our results point to the need for additional psychological supports to help people maintain their physical activity levels during stressful times in order to minimize the burden of the pandemic and prevent the development of a mental health crisis,” concluded Heisz.

Source: News-Medical.Net

Journal information: Marashi, M. Y., et al. (2021) A mental health paradox: Mental health was both a motivator and barrier to physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. PLOS ONE. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0239244.

Exercise Slows Cognitive Decline in APOE4-related Parkinson’s Disease

Results from a longitudinal study showed physical activity reduced  cognitive decline in early APOE4-related Parkinson’s disease.

Jin-Sun Jun, MD, of Hallym University in Seoul, and colleagues in Neurology presented the findings of a longitudinal study on a group of 173 recently diagnosed Parkinson’s patients. Of this group, those who with an apolipoprotein E ε4 (APOE4) allele had faster cognitive decline on the 30-point Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) scale than noncarriers (estimate -1.33, 95% CI -2.12 to -0.47, P=0.002). However, among the APOE4 carriers, higher physical activity was related to slower cognitive decline (estimate 0.007, 95% CI 0.003-0.011, P=0.001)..

Dr Jun noted that this reflects a number of studies that have demonstrated that Parkinson’s patients who exercise regularly show better clinical outcomes, including motor and cognitive function.

“These observations are supported by epidemiological data showing a link between physical activity and decreased risk for Parkinson’s disease,” Dr Jun told MedPage Today. “Because previous data indicate that physical activity modifies the APOE4 effect on the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, we hypothesized that physical activity also plays a role in modulating the association between APOE4 and cognition in Parkinson’s disease.”

Genetic factors interact with physical activity on other health outcomes, noted Jacob Raber, PhD, of Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, and colleagues, in an accompanying editorial.

“If similar gene-by-physical activity interactions were identified in Parkinson’s disease, they could pave the way for personalized treatment,” Raber and colleagues wrote. “While the effects of APOE4 on promoting beta-amyloid and tau pathology are well-established, recent studies show that APOE4 is also associated with more profound pathology of alpha-synuclein and higher measures of cognitive burden, both in mouse models and in humans with Parkinson’s disease.”

In their study, the researchers followed recently diagnosed patients in the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative cohort who were not treated for Parkinson’s and who had abnormal dopamine transporter (DAT) imaging.

Self-reported physical activity was begun 2 years after enrollment and scored on the Physical Activity Scale of the Elderly. Cognitive function was measured annually with the MoCA, which is well-suited for Parkinson’s patients, and DAT imaging was performed at years 2 and 4. Assessments performed at years 2, 3, and 4 were used for analysis.

There was no significant interaction seen between physical activity and APOE4 involving change in striatal DAT activities. This suggests that striatal dopaminergic function may not be a major factor in physical activity’s protective effect on APOE4-related cognitive decline, Dr Jun and colleagues noted. “These negative results may be explained by the modest effect of APOE4 on the nigrostriatal dopaminergic system,” they wrote. “Furthermore, our follow-up duration may be too short to comprehend the impact of APOE4 on this system, considering the slow progressive nature of alpha-synucleinopathy.”

The researchers also pointed out that the exercise could offer benefits through mechanisms unrelated to the disease. “Although we cannot conclude what types or amounts of exercise help to slow progression from this study design, even non-high-intensity physical activity positively modified the impact of APOE4 on cognitive function,” Jun said.

The study’s limitations included physical activity being self-reported, cognitive function being based only on MoCA scores, and a short follow-up time. Though motor scores in the off-medication state were adjusted for, physical activity may have been less due to disease progression.

Source: MedPage Today