Study shows that higher levels of physical activity are linked with less pain, and to a similar extent in adults with and without a history of cancer.
People who have had cancer often experience ongoing pain, but a new study reveals that being physically active may help lessen its intensity. The study is published by Wiley online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.
Although physical activity has been shown to lessen various types of pain, its effects on cancer-related pain are unclear. To investigate, a team led by senior author Erika Rees-Punia, PhD, MPH, of the American Cancer Society, and first author Christopher T.V. Swain, PhD, of the University of Melbourne, in Australia, analysed information pertaining to 51 439 adults without a history of cancer and 10,651 adults with a past cancer diagnosis. Participants were asked, “How would you rate your pain on average,” with responses ranging from 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain imaginable). Participants were also asked about their usual physical activity.
US guidelines recommend 150 minutes (2 hours 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity.
Based on participants’ responses, the investigators found that, for individuals who had cancer in the past as well as for those without a history of cancer, more physical activity was linked with lower pain intensity. The extent of the association was similar for both groups of individuals, indicating that exercise may reduce cancer-related pain just as it does for other types of pain that have been studied in the past.
Among participants with a past cancer diagnosis, those exceeding physical activity guidelines were 16% less likely to report moderate-to-severe pain compared to those who failed to meet physical activity guidelines. Also, compared with people who remained inactive, those who were consistently active or became active in older adulthood reported less pain.
“It may feel counterintuitive to some, but physical activity is an effective, non-pharmacologic option for reducing many types of pain. As our study suggests, this may include pain associated with cancer and its treatments,” said Dr Rees-Punia.
Replacing sitting with as little as a few minutes of daily moderate exercise measurably improves heart health, according to new research from the University of Sydney and UCL.
The study, published in the European Heart Journal, is the first to assess how different movement patterns throughout the 24-hour day are linked to cardiovascular health. Although it was an observational study and could not attribute causation, it added to the growing body of evidence surrounding inactivity, especially sitting.
It is the first evidence to emerge from the international Prospective Physical Activity, Sitting and Sleep (ProPASS) consortium.
In this British Heart Foundation (BHF)-supported study, researchers at UCL analysed data from six studies, including 15 246 people from five countries, to see how movement behaviour across the day is associated with heart health, as measured by six common indicators. Each participant used a wearable device on their thigh to measure their activity throughout the 24-hour day and had their heart health measured.
The researchers identified a hierarchy of behaviours that make up a typical 24-hour day, with time spent doing moderate-vigorous activity providing the most benefit to heart health, followed by light activity, standing and sleeping compared with the adverse impact of sedentary behaviour.
The team modelled what would happen if an individual changed various amounts of one behaviour for another each day for a week, in order to estimate the effect on heart health for each scenario. When replacing sedentary behaviour, as little as five minutes of moderate-vigorous activity had a noticeable effect on heart health.
For a 54-year-old woman with an average BMI of 26.5, for example, a 30-minute change translated into a decrease in BMI of 0.64 (2.4%) Replacing 30 minutes of daily sitting or lying time with moderate or vigorous exercise could also translate into a 2.5cm (2.7%) decrease in waist circumference or a 1.33 mmol/mol (3.6%) decrease in HBa1c.
Dr Jo Blodgett, first author of the study from UCL Surgery & Interventional Science and the Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health, said: “The big takeaway from our research is that while small changes to how you move can have a positive effect on heart health, intensity of movement matters. The most beneficial change we observed was replacing sitting with moderate to vigorous activity – which could be a run, a brisk walk, or stair climbing – basically any activity that raises your heart rate and makes you breathe faster, even for a minute or two.”
The researchers pointed out that although time spent doing vigorous activity was the quickest way to improve heart health, there are ways to benefit for people of all abilities – it’s just that the lower the intensity of the activity, the longer the time is required to start having a tangible benefit. Using a standing desk for a few hours a day instead of a sitting desk, for example, is a change over a relatively large amount of time but is also one that could be integrated into a working routine fairly easily as it does not require any time commitment.
Those who are least active were also found to gain the greatest benefit from changing from sedentary behaviours to more active ones.
Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, joint senior author of the study from the Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney, said: “A key novelty of the ProPASS consortium is the use of wearable devices that better differentiate between types of physical activity and posture, allowing us to estimate the health effects of even subtle variations with greater precision.”
Though the findings cannot infer causality between movement behaviours and cardiovascular outcomes, they contribute to a growing body of evidence linking moderate to vigorous physical activity over 24 hours with improved body fat metrics. Further long-term studies will be crucial to better understanding the associations between movement and cardiovascular outcomes.
Professor Mark Hamer, joint senior author of the study from UCL Surgery & Interventional Science and the Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health, said: “Though it may come as no surprise that becoming more active is beneficial for heart health, what’s new in this study is considering a range of behaviours across the whole 24-hour day. This approach will allow us to ultimately provide personalised recommendations to get people more active in ways that are appropriate for them.”
James Leiper, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “We already know that exercise can have real benefits for your cardiovascular health and this encouraging research shows that small adjustments to your daily routine could lower your chances of having a heart attack or stroke. This study shows that replacing even a few minutes of sitting with a few minutes of moderate activity can improve your BMI, cholesterol, waist size, and have many more physical benefits.
“Getting active isn’t always easy, and it’s important to make changes that you can stick to in the long-term and that you enjoy – anything that gets your heart rate up can help. Incorporating ‘activity snacks’ such as walking while taking phone calls, or setting an alarm to get up and do some star jumps every hour is a great way to start building activity into your day, to get you in the habit of living a healthy, active lifestyle.”
People who adhere to a Mediterranean lifestyle, which involves a plant-rich diet, adequate rest, physical activity and socialisation, have a lower risk of all-cause and cancer mortality, according to a new study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. People who adhered to the lifestyle’s emphasis on rest, exercise, and socialising with friends had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality.
While many studies have established the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, there are few studies on the diet outside of its region of origin. “This study suggests that it’s possible for non-Mediterranean populations to adopt the Mediterranean diet using locally available products and to adopt the overall Mediterranean lifestyle within their own cultural contexts,” said lead author Mercedes Sotos Prieto, Ramon y Cajal research fellow at La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and adjunct assistant professor of environmental health at Harvard Chan School. “We’re seeing the transferability of the lifestyle and its positive effects on health.”
Led by La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the study analysed the habits of 110,799 members of the UK Biobank cohort, a population-based study across England, Wales, and Scotland using the Mediterranean Lifestyle (MEDLIFE) index, which is derived from a lifestyle questionnaire and diet assessments. Participants, who were between the ages of 40 and 75, provided information about their lifestyle according to the three categories the index measures: “Mediterranean food consumption” (intake of foods part of the Mediterranean diet such as fruits and whole grains); “Mediterranean dietary habits” (adherence to habits and practices around meals, including limiting salt and drinking healthy beverages); and “physical activity, rest, and social habits and conviviality” (adherence to lifestyle habits including taking regular naps, exercising, and spending time with friends). Each item within the three categories was then scored, with higher total scores indicating higher adherence to the Mediterranean lifestyle.
The researchers followed up nine years later to examine participants’ health outcomes. Among the study population, 4247 died from all causes; 2401 from cancer; and 731 from cardiovascular disease. Analysing these results alongside MEDLIFE scores, the researchers observed an inverse association between adherence to the Mediterranean lifestyle and risk of mortality. Participants with higher MEDLIFE scores were found to have a 29% lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 28% lower risk of cancer mortality compared to those with lower MEDLIFE scores. Adherence to each MEDLIFE category independently was associated with lower all-cause and cancer mortality risk. The “physical activity, rest, and social habits and conviviality” category was most strongly associated with these lowered risks, and additionally was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality.
Regular physical activity and exercise may reduce bleeding in individuals with intracerebral haemorrhage, a University of Gothenburg study shows. The study, published in the journal Stroke and Vascular Neurology, analysed data on 686 people treated for intracerebral haemorrhage at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg during the years 2014 to 2019.
The study was a retrospective analysis and could not determine causation. Nonetheless, it was clear that those who reported regular physical activity had smaller haemorrhages than those who reported being inactive.
Physically active was defined as engaging in at least light physical activity, such as walking, cycling, swimming, gardening, or dancing, for at least four hours weekly.
50 percent less bleeding volume
The main author of the study is Adam Viktorisson, a PhD student in clinical neuroscience at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, and doctor in general practice at Sahlgrenska University Hospital.
“We found that individuals who engage in regular physical activity had, on average, bleeding volumes that were 50 percent smaller upon arriving to the hospital. A similar connection has previously been seen in animal studies, but no prior study has demonstrated this in humans.”
Everyone who comes to the hospital with a suspected intracerebral haemorrhage undergoes a computerized tomography (CT) scan of the brain. Depending on the severity of the haemorrhage, neurosurgery may be required. However, in most cases, non-surgical methods and medications are used to manage symptoms and promote patient recovery.
Intracerebral haemorrhage is the most dangerous type of stroke and can lead to life-threatening conditions. The risk of severe consequences from the haemorrhage increases with the extent of the bleeding.
“In cases of major intracerebral haemorrhages, there is a risk of increased pressure within the skull that can potentially lead to fatal outcomes” says Thomas Skoglund, associate professor of neurosurgery at the University of Gothenburg, neurosurgeon at the University Hospital, and one of the study’s co-authors.
Better understanding of intracerebral hemorrhages
The findings were significant regardless of the location within the cerebrum. Physically active individuals exhibited reduced bleeding in both the deep regions of the brain, which are often associated with high blood pressure, and the surface regions, which are linked to age-related conditions like dementia.
The study creates scope for further research on intracerebral haemorrhages and physical activity. Katharina Stibrant Sunnerhagen, professor of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Gothenburg and senior consultant physician at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, oversees the study.
“We hope that our findings contribute to a deeper understanding of intracerebral haemorrhages and aid in the development of more effective preventive measures” she concludes.
“This study provides some of the strongest and most rigorous data thus far to support the connection that better diets maylead to higher fitness,” said study author Dr Michael Mi of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “The improvement in fitness we observed in participants with better diets was similar to the effect of taking 4000 more steps each day.”
Cardiorespiratory fitness reflects the body’s ability to provide and use oxygen for exercise, and it integrates the health of multiple organ systems, such as the heart, lungs, blood vessels and muscles. It is one of the most powerful predictors of longevity and health. While exercise increases cardiorespiratory fitness, it is also the case that among people who exercise the same amount, there are differences in fitness, suggesting that additional factors contribute. A nutritious diet is associated with numerous health benefits, but it has been unclear whether it is also related to fitness.
This study examined whether a healthy diet is associated with physical fitness in community-dwelling adults. The study included 2380 individuals in the Framingham Heart Study. The average age was 54 years and 54% were women. Participants underwent a maximum effort cardiopulmonary exercise test on a cycle ergometer to measure peak VO2. This is the gold standard assessment of fitness and indicates the amount of oxygen used during the highest possible intensity exercise.
Participants also completed the Harvard semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire to assess intake of 126 dietary items during the last year ranging from never or less than once per month to six or more servings per day. The information was used to rate diet quality using the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI; 0 to 110) and Mediterranean-style Diet Score (MDS; 0 to 25), which are both associated with heart health. Higher scores indicated a better quality diet emphasising vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes, fish and healthy fats and limiting red meat and alcohol.
The researchers evaluated the association between diet quality and fitness after controlling for other factors that could influence the relationship, including age, sex, total daily energy intake, body mass index, smoking status, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, diabetes and routine physical activity level. The average AHEI and MDS were 66.7 and 12.4, respectively. Compared with the average score, an increase of 13 points on the AHEI and 4.7 on the MDS was associated with a 5.2% and 4.5% greater peak VO2, respectively.
Dr Mi said: “In middle-aged adults, healthy dietary patterns were strongly and favourably associated with fitness even after taking habitual activity levels into account. The relationship was similar in women and men, and more pronounced in those under 54 years of age compared to older adults.”
To discover the potential mechanism linking diet and fitness, the researchers performed further analyses. They examined the relationship between diet quality, fitness and metabolites, which are substances produced during digestion and released into the blood during exercise. Researchers measured 201 metabolites (eg amino acids) in blood samples collected in a subset of 1154 study participants. Some 24 metabolites were associated with either poor diet and fitness, or with favourable diet and fitness, after adjusting for the same factors considered in the previous analyses. Dr Mi said: “Our metabolite data suggest that eating healthily is associated with better metabolic health, which could be one possible way that it leads to improved fitness and ability to exercise.”
“This was an observational study and we cannot conclude that eating well causes better fitness, or exclude the possibility of a reverse relationship, i.e. that fit individuals choose to eat healthily.”
Dr Mi concluded: “There are already many compelling health reasons to consume a high-quality diet, and we provide yet another one with its association with fitness. A Mediterranean-style diet with fresh, whole foods and minimal processed foods, red meat and alcohol is a great place to start.”
With a three-day weekend being trialled in countries across the globe, new empirical research by Australian researchers shows that the extra time off increases active healthy behaviours, lending extra support to a shorter but still productive work week.
Across the 13-month study period, participants generally took two to three holidays on average, each being around 12 days. The most common holiday type was ‘outdoor recreation’ (35%), followed by ‘family/social events’ (31%), ‘rest and relaxation’ (17%) and ‘non-leisure pursuits’ such as caring for others or home renovations (17%).
Specifically, it showed that on holiday, participants:
engaged in 13% more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) each day (or five min/day more)
were 5% less sedentary each day (or 29 min/day less)
slept 4% more each day (or 21 min/day more).
University of South Australia researcher Dr Ty Ferguson says that the research indicates that people display healthier behaviours when they are on holiday.
“When people go on holiday, they’re changing their everyday responsibilities because they’re not locked down to their normal schedule,” Dr Ferguson says.
“In this study, we found that movement patterns changed for the better when on holiday, with increased physical activity and decreased sedentary behaviour observed across the board.
“We also found that people gained an extra 21 minutes of sleep each day they were on holiday, which can have a range of positive effects on our physical and mental health. For example, getting enough sleep can help improve our mood, cognitive function, and productivity. It can also help lower our risk of developing a range of health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression.
“Interestingly, the size of these changes increased in line with the length of the holiday – so the longer the holiday, the better the health benefits.”
The study used data from the Annual rhythms in adults’ lifestyle and health (ARIA) study where 308 adults (mean age 40.4 years) wore fitness trackers 24 hours a day for 13 months. Minute-by-minute
movement behaviour data were aggregated into daily totals to compare movement behaviours pre-holiday, during holiday and post-holiday.
Senior researcher UniSA’s Prof Carol Maher says that the study offers support for the growing movement for a four-day week.
“A shorter working week is being trialled by companies all over the world. Not surprisingly, employees reported less stress, burnout, fatigue, as well as better mental health and improved work-life balance,” Prof Maher says.
“This study provides empirical evidence that people have healthier lifestyle patterns when they have a short break, such as a three-day weekend. This increase in physical activity and sleep is expected to have positive effects on both mental and physical health, contributing to the benefits observed with a four-day work week.
“Importantly, our study also showed that even after a short holiday, people’s increased sleep remained elevated for two weeks, showing that the health benefits of a three-day break can have lasting effects beyond the holiday itself.
“As the world adapts to a new normal, perhaps it’s time to embrace the long weekend as a way to boost our physical and mental health.”
A study of 104 children wearing pedometers to monitor daily activity showed that higher levels of physical activity are associated with reduced susceptibility to upper respiratory tract infections such as the common cold. Reporting the findings in Pediatric Research, the researchers suggest reduced inflammatory cytokines and improved immune responses as a possible mechanism.
Wojciech Feleszko, Katarzyna Ostrzyżek-Przeździecka and colleagues measured the physical activity levels and symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections of children aged between four and seven years in the Warsaw city region between 2018 and 2019. Participants wore a pedometer armband 24 hours a day for 40 days to measure their activity levels and sleep duration. For 60 days, parents used daily questionnaires to report their children’s symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections, such as coughing or sneezing. On a second questionnaire, parents reported their children’s vaccinations, participation in sport, whether they had siblings, and their exposure to smoking and pet hair.
The authors found that as the average daily number of steps taken by children throughout the study period increased by 1000, the number of days that they experienced symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections decreased by an average of 4.1 days. Additionally, children participating in three or more hours of sport per week tended to experience fewer days with respiratory tract infection symptoms than those not regularly participating in sports.
Higher activity levels at the beginning of the study were associated with fewer days with respiratory tract infection symptoms during the following six weeks. Among 47 children, with 5668 average daily steps during the first two weeks of the study period, the combined number of days during the following six weeks that these children experienced upper respiratory tract infection symptoms was 947. However, among 47 children whose initial average daily steps numbered 9368, the combined number of days during the following six weeks that these children experienced respiratory symptoms for was 724. Upper respiratory tract infection symptoms were not associated with sleep duration, siblings, vaccinations, or exposure to pet hair or smoking.
The authors speculate that higher physical activity levels could help reduce infection risk in children by reducing levels of inflammatory cytokines and by promoting immune responses involving T-helper cells. They also suggest that skeletal muscles could release small extracellular vesicles that modulate immune responses following exercise. However, they caution that future research is needed to investigate these potential mechanisms in children. In addition, since this was an observational study, causality could not be established.