Fitness Misconceptions, According to Scientific Research

Suggestions for 2019 — exercise more and more is found to have major health benefits.

Whether you want to tone up, slim down, or boost your mood, you’ve likely taken a stab at tweaking your fitness routine. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of fitness advice out there that won’t help you meet your goals and could actually do more harm than good.

Here’s an overview of some of the most enduring workout myths and misconceptions, as well as the real science that can help you meet your fitness goals in a healthy way.

Myth #1: To stay in shape, you only need to work out once or twice a week.

Truth: Once or twice a week won’t cut it for sustained health benefits.

“A minimum of three days per week for a structured exercise program” is best, Shawn Arent, an exercise scientist at Rutgers University, recently told Business Insider.

“Technically, you should do something every day, and by something I mean physical activity – just move. Because we’re finding more and more that the act of sitting counteracts any of the activity you do.”

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Myth #3: Weight lifting turns fat into muscle.

Truth: You can’t turn fat into muscle. Physiologically speaking, they’re two different tissues. Adipose (fatty) tissue is found under the skin, sandwiched between muscles, and around internal organs like the heart.

Muscle tissue – which can be further broken down into three main types – is found throughout the body.

What weight training really does is help build up the muscle tissue in and around any fat tissue. The best way to reduce fat tissue is to eat a healthy diet that incorporates vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and – somewhat paradoxically – healthy fats like olive oil and fish.

Myth #4: Puzzles and games are the best ‘brain workout’ around.

Truth: Plain old physical exercise seems to beat out any type of mental puzzle available, according to a wealth of recent research.

Two new studies published this spring suggest that aerobic exercise – any activity that raises your heart rate and gets you moving and sweating for a sustained period of time – has a significant, overwhelmingly beneficial impact on the brain.

“Aerobic exercise is the key for your head, just as it is for your heart,” wrote the authors of a recent Harvard Medical School blog post.

Myth #5: Exercise is the best way to lose weight.

Truth: If you’re looking to lose weight, you shouldn’t assume that you can simply ‘work off’ whatever you eat. Experts say slimming down almost always starts with significant changes to your eating habits.

“In terms of weight loss, diet plays a much bigger role than exercise,” University of Texas exercise scientist Philip Stanforth tells Business Insider.

That said, being active regularly is an important part of any healthy lifestyle.

And when it comes to boosting your mood, improving your memory, and protecting your brain against age-related cognitive decline, research suggests exercise may be as close to a wonder drug as we’ll get.

Myth #6: Sit-ups are the best way to get six-pack abs.

Truth: As opposed to sit-ups, which target only your abdominal muscles, planks recruit several groups of muscles along your sides, front, and back. If you want a strong core – especially the kind that would give you six-pack-like definition – you need to challenge all of these muscles.

“Sit-ups or crunches strengthen just a few muscle groups,” write the authors of the Harvard Healthbeat newsletter.

“Through dynamic patterns of movement, a good core workout helps strengthen the entire set of core muscles you use every day.”

Myth #7: Weight training is for men.

Truth: Weight training is a great way to strengthen muscles, and has nothing to do with gender. That said, women produce less testosterone on average than men do, and studies suggest that hormone plays a role in determining how we build muscle.

Myth #8: It takes at least two weeks to get ‘out of shape’.

Truth: In most people, muscle tissue can start to break down within a week without regular exercise.

“If you stop training, you actually do get noticeable de-conditioning, or the beginnings of de-conditioning, with as little as seven days of complete rest,” Arent said. “It very much is an issue of use it or lose it.”

Myth #9: Running a marathon is the ideal way to get fit.

Truth: Not ready to conquer a marathon? No problem. You can get many of the benefits of long-distance running without ever passing the five-mile mark.

Running fast and hard for just 5 to 10 minutes a day can provide some of the same health outcomes as running for hours can.

In fact, people who run for less than an hour a week – as long as they get in those few minutes each day – see similar benefits in terms of heart health compared to those who run more than three hours per week.

Plus, years of recent research suggest that short bursts of intense exercise can provide some of the same health benefits as long, endurance-style workouts – and they also tend to be more fun.

New Materials for Wound and Skin Healing

Good research into healing — it leverages the body’s own natural resources.

Materials are widely used to help heal wounds: Collagen sponges help treat burns and pressure sores, and scaffold-like implants are used to repair bones. However, the process of tissue repair changes over time, so scientists are developing biomaterials that interact with tissues as healing takes place.

Now, Dr Ben Almquist and his team at Imperial College London have created a new molecule that could change the way traditional materials work with the body. Known as traction force-activated payloads (TrAPs), their method lets materials talk to the body’s natural repair systems to drive healing.

The researchers say incorporating TrAPs into existing medical materials could revolutionise the way injuries are treated. Dr Almquist, from Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering, said: “Our technology could help launch a new generation of materials that actively work with tissues to drive healing.”

The findings are published today in Advanced Materials.

Cellular call to action

After an injury, cells ‘crawl’ through the collagen ‘scaffolds’ found in wounds, like spiders navigating webs. As they move, they pull on the scaffold, which activates hidden healing proteins that begin to repair injured tissue.

The researchers designed TrAPs as a way to recreate this natural healing method. They folded the DNA segments into three-dimensional shapes known as aptamers that cling tightly to proteins. Then, they attached a customisable ‘handle’ that cells can grab onto on one end, before attaching the opposite end to a scaffold such as collagen.

During laboratory testing of their technique, they found that cells pulled on the TrAPs as they crawled through the collagen scaffolds. The pulling made the TrAPs unravel like shoelaces to reveal and activate the healing proteins. These proteins instruct the healing cells to grow and multiply.

The researchers also found that by changing the cellular ‘handle’, they can change which type of cell can grab hold and pull, letting them tailor TrAPs to release specific therapeutic proteins based on which cells are present at a given point in time. In doing so, the TrAPs produce materials that can smartly interact with the correct type of cell at the correct time during wound repair.

This is the first time scientists have activated healing proteins using different types of cells in human-made materials. The technique mimics healing methods found in nature. Dr Almquist said: “Using cell movement to activate healing is found in creatures ranging from sea sponges to humans. Our approach mimics them and actively works with the different varieties of cells that arrive in our damaged tissue over time to promote healing.”

From lab to humans

This approach is adaptable to different cell types, so could be used in a variety of injuries such as fractured bones, scar tissue after heart attacks, and damaged nerves. New techniques are also desperately needed for patients whose wounds won’t heal despite current interventions, like diabetic foot ulcers, which are the leading cause of non-traumatic lower leg amputations.

TrAPs are relatively straightforward to create and are fully human-made, meaning they are easily recreated in different labs and can be scaled up to industrial quantities. Their adaptability also means they could help scientists create new methods for laboratory studies of diseases, stem cells, and tissue development.

Aptamers are currently used as drugs, meaning they are already proven safe and optimised for clinical use. Because TrAPs take advantage of aptamers that are currently optimised for use in humans, they may be able to take a shorter path to the clinic than methods that start from ground zero.

Dr Almquist said: “The TrAP technology provides a flexible method to create materials that actively communicate with the wound and provide key instructions when and where they are needed. This sort of intelligent, dynamic healing is useful during every phase of the healing process, has the potential to increase the body’s chance to recover, and has far-reaching uses on many different types of wounds. This technology has the potential to serve as a conductor of wound repair, orchestrating different cells over time to work together to heal damaged tissues.”

AI System Successfully Predicts Alzheimer’s Years in Advance

Important research of Alzheimer’s disease since it’s one of those diseases where the treatment will be more effective the earlier it’s caught.

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology improves the ability of brain imaging to predict Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published in the journal Radiology.

Timely diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is extremely important, as treatments and interventions are more effective early in the course of the disease. However, early diagnosis has proven to be challenging. Research has linked the disease process to changes in metabolism, as shown by glucose uptake in certain regions of the brain, but these changes can be difficult to recognize.

“Differences in the pattern of glucose uptake in the brain are very subtle and diffuse,” said study co-author Jae Ho Sohn, M.D., from the Radiology & Biomedical Imaging Department at the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF). “People are good at finding specific biomarkers of disease, but metabolic changes represent a more global and subtle process.”

The study’s senior author, Benjamin Franc, M.D., from UCSF, approached Dr. Sohn and University of California, Berkeley, undergraduate student Yiming Ding through the Big Data in Radiology (BDRAD) research group, a multidisciplinary team of physicians and engineers focusing on radiological data science. Dr. Franc was interested in applying deep learning, a type of AI in which machines learn by example much like humans do, to find changes in brain metabolism predictive of Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers trained the deep learning algorithm on a special imaging technology known as 18-F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET). In an FDG-PET scan, FDG, a radioactive glucose compound, is injected into the blood. PET scans can then measure the uptake of FDG in brain cells, an indicator of metabolic activity.

The researchers had access to data from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), a major multi-site study focused on clinical trials to improve prevention and treatment of this disease. The ADNI dataset included more than 2,100 FDG-PET brain images from 1,002 patients. Researchers trained the deep learning algorithm on 90 percent of the dataset and then tested it on the remaining 10 percent of the dataset. Through deep learning, the algorithm was able to teach itself metabolic patterns that corresponded to Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally, the researchers tested the algorithm on an independent set of 40 imaging exams from 40 patients that it had never studied. The algorithm achieved 100 percent sensitivity at detecting the disease an average of more than six years prior to the final diagnosis.

“We were very pleased with the algorithm’s performance,” Dr. Sohn said. “It was able to predict every single case that advanced to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Although he cautioned that their independent test set was small and needs further validation with a larger multi-institutional prospective study, Dr. Sohn said that the algorithm could be a useful tool to complement the work of radiologists — especially in conjunction with other biochemical and imaging tests — in providing an opportunity for early therapeutic intervention.

“If we diagnose Alzheimer’s disease when all the symptoms have manifested, the brain volume loss is so significant that it’s too late to intervene,” he said. “If we can detect it earlier, that’s an opportunity for investigators to potentially find better ways to slow down or even halt the disease process.”

Why Changing the Clocks With Daylight-Saving Time is Absurd

It’s an antiquated practice that has many people driving home from work (at around 5 o’clock) in relative darkness, likely leading to more traffic accidents and less quality time outside as well.

Daylight-saving time (not “daylight-savings” time) was created during World War I to decrease energy use. The practice was implemented year-round in 1942, during WWII. Not waking up in the dark, the thinking went, would decrease fuel use for lighting and heating. That would help conserve energy supplies to help the war effort.

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According to advocacy groups like Standardtime.com, which are trying to abolish daylight-saving time, claims about saving energy are unproven. “If we are saving energy, let’s go year-round with daylight-saving time,” the group says. “If we are not saving energy, let’s drop daylight-saving time!”

In his book Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight-Saving Time, author Michael Downing says there isn’t much evidence that daylight-saving actually decreases energy use.

In fact, sometimes DST seems to increase energy use.

For example, in Indiana – where daylight-saving time was implemented statewide in 2006 – researchers saw that people used less electricity for light, but those gains were canceled out by people who used more air conditioning during the early evenings.

(That’s because 6pm felt more like 5pm, when the sun still shines brightly in the summer and homes haven’t had the chance to cool off.)

DST also increases gasoline consumption, something Downing says the petroleum industry has known since the 1930s. This is probably because evening activities – and the vehicle use they require – increase with that extra daylight.

Changing the clocks also causes air travel synchronisation headaches, which sometimes leads to travel delays and lost revenue, airlines have reportedly said.

There are also health issues associated with changing the clocks. Similar to the way jet-lag makes you feel all out of whack, daylight-saving time is like scooting one time zone over.

This can disrupt our sleep, metabolism, mood, stress levels, and other bodily rhythms. One study suggests recovery can take three weeks.

In the days after DST starts or ends, in fact, researchers have observed a spike in heart attacks, increased numbers of work injuries, more automobile accidents, and higher suicide rates.

[…]

The absence of major energy-saving benefits from DST – along with its death toll, health impacts, and economic ramifications – are reason enough to get rid of the ritual.

Hundreds of Supplements Tainted With Hidden Drugs

This is why people should use caution when taking supplements, and it also shows the risk of inadequate corporate oversight. Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, the American supplement industry is barely regulated at all.

The labels promise miracles: Fast Weight Loss! Eliminates Hunger! Burns Calories!

Now new research highlights how hundreds of brands of dietary supplements deliver so much kick from a modest blend of vitamins and herbs. The answer is many labels leave out one important ingredient: a hidden payload of pharmaceutical drugs and experimental chemicals.

A new analysis of 10 years of FDA records reveals that from 2007 to 2016, almost 750 dietary supplements were found to be contaminated with secret doses of totally unregulated drugs, including prescription medicines, banned and unapproved chemicals, and designer steroids.

Over 20 percent of these offending products contained more than one unapproved drug ingredient, and numerous contained a cocktail of clandestine chemicals – in two cases, as many as six unlisted ingredients.

For a US$35 billion industry patronised by about half of American adults, it’s possible this data could be just the tip of the iceberg, too.

“The drug ingredients in these dietary supplements have the potential to cause serious adverse health effects owing to accidental misuse, overuse, or interaction with other medications, underlying health conditions, or other pharmaceuticals within the supplement,” researchers from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Sacramento, explain in their paper.

Given that supplement use is associated with some 23, 000 ER visits and 2,000 hospitalisations in the US each year, it’s clear we’re looking at a big problem here, but what’s even more shocking than the brazen selling of these illicit additives is how tame and toothless the FDA’s official actions were.

Of 746 products identified as adulterated by the FDA, just 360 (48 percent) were subsequently recalled, leaving more than half of the contaminated supplements available for sale.

“The agency’s failure to aggressively use all available tools to remove pharmaceutically adulterated supplements from commerce leaves consumers’ health at risk,” writes general internist Pieter Cohen from Harvard Medical School in a commentary on the new research.

Many of the tainted supplements analysed in the study contained sildenafil (the active ingredient of Viagra) to boost their powers of sexual enhancement. Another erectile dysfunction drug, tadalafil, was also common.

Other chemicals included hidden antidepressants, a withdrawn weight loss drug called sibutramine, and undeclared anabolic steroids or steroid-like substances.

It’s been argued however that since almost 75 percent of the offending supplements were sold online or through international mail order, they don’t represent the ‘mainstream’ of the supplements industry.

“These come from dark corners of the internet,” president of the Natural Products Association, Daniel Fabricant, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

“They’re not what you get at your health food store.”

Still, given that none of these products are actually subjected to the same stringent tests reserved for pharmaceutical drugs, it’s possible any supplement could contain anything – which is why Cohen advises choosing products that only contain a single ingredient and avoiding products that purport to offer spurious, medical-sounding benefits.

Why? Because as this research shows, many supplements turn out to be medicine after all – only it’s an unknown drug, potentially a banned one, and there’s no way of measuring your dose.

“If the company is saying it works like Viagra or you’re going to gain muscle like you’re on steroids – that’s not a supplement. That’s a drug,” Fabricant says.

“Dietary supplements are meant to maintain health, not to take 30 minutes before sex.”

The findings are reported in JAMA Network Open.

Slowing the Aging Process by Eating Fruits and Vegetables

Why fruits and vegetables are important — they contain a chemical that reduces some of the negative effects of aging, something that’s obviously valuable. The research is trying to use the chemical in a drug, but it’s good that it demonstrates that point.

Previous research published earlier this year in Nature Medicine involving University of Minnesota Medical School faculty Paul D. Robbins and Laura J. Niedernhofer and Mayo Clinic investigators James L. Kirkland and Tamara Tchkonia, showed it was possible to reduce the burden of damaged cells, termed senescent cells, and extend lifespan and improve health, even when treatment was initiated late in life. They now have shown that treatment of aged mice with the natural product Fisetin, found in many fruits and vegetables, also has significant positive effects on health and lifespan.

As people age, they accumulate damaged cells. When the cells get to a certain level of damage they go through an aging process of their own, called cellular senescence. The cells also release inflammatory factors that tell the immune system to clear those damaged cells. A younger person’s immune system is healthy and is able to clear the damaged cells. But as people age, they aren’t cleared as effectively. Thus they begin to accumulate, cause low level inflammation and release enzymes that can degrade the tissue.

Robbins and fellow researchers found a natural product, called Fisetin, reduces the level of these damaged cells in the body. They found this by treating mice towards the end of life with this compound and see improvement in health and lifespan. The paper, “Fisetin is a senotherapeutic that extends health and lifespan,” was recently published in EBioMedicine.

“These results suggest that we can extend the period of health, termed healthspan, even towards the end of life,” said Robbins. “But there are still many questions to address, including the right dosage, for example.”

One question they can now answer, however, is why haven’t they done this before? There were always key limitations when it came to figuring out how a drug will act on different tissues, different cells in an aging body. Researchers didn’t have a way to identify if a treatment was actually attacking the particular cells that are senescent, until now.

Even Brief Workouts Quickly Improve Memory Function

Exercise has numerous benefits, and more and more continues to be found about how valuable consistent exercise is. Having a stronger memory will often improve performance in a variety of ways, and thus this research should give people more motivation to workout more.

People who include a little yoga or tai chi in their day may be more likely to remember where they put their keys. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine and Japan’s University of Tsukuba found that even very light workouts can increase the connectivity between parts of the brain responsible for memory formation and storage.

In a study of 36 healthy young adults, the researchers discovered that a single 10-minute period of mild exertion can yield considerable cognitive benefits. Using high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging, the team examined subjects’ brains shortly after exercise sessions and saw better connectivity between the hippocampal dentate gyrus and cortical areas linked to detailed memory processing.

Their results were published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The hippocampus is critical for the creation of new memories; it’s one of the first regions of the brain to deteriorate as we get older — and much more severely in Alzheimer’s disease,” said project co-leader Michael Yassa, UCI professor and Chancellor’s Fellow of neurobiology & behavior. “Improving the function of the hippocampus holds much promise for improving memory in everyday settings.”

The neuroscientists found that the level of heightened connectivity predicted the degree of recall enhancement.

Yassa, director of UCI’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and the recently launched UCI Brain Initiative, said that while prior research has centered on the way exercise promotes the generation of new brain cells in memory regions, this new study demonstrates a more immediate impact: strengthened communication between memory-focused parts of the brain.

“We don’t discount the possibility that new cells are being born, but that’s a process that takes a bit longer to unfold,” he said. “What we observed is that these 10-minute periods of exercise showed results immediately afterward.”

A little bit of physical activity can go a long way, Yassa stressed. “It’s encouraging to see more people keeping track of their exercise habits — by monitoring the number of steps they’re taking, for example,” he said. “Even short walking breaks throughout the day may have considerable effects on improving memory and cognition.”

Yassa and his colleagues at UCI and at the University of Tsukuba are extending this avenue of research by testing older adults who are at greater risk of age-related mental impairment and by conducting long-term interventions to see if regular, brief, light exercise done daily for several weeks or months can have a positive impact on the brain’s structure and function in these subjects.