How running could help your eyesight


Yet another good reason to get out the old running shoes has come a study done at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that tracked approximately 41,000 runners for more than seven years. They found that vigorous exercise, particularly running, can help reduce the risk of both cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness and macular degeneration can cause irreversible vision in older people and so far there have been few suggestions as to how to avoid these conditions. Running, or any vigorous cardiovascular exercise, may be one excellent preventive measure and certainly worth investigating by anyone with a family history of eye disease.

The trial was conducted with both men and women runners they found that men who ran more than 5.7 miles per day had a 35 percent lower risk of developing cataracts than men who ran less than 1.4 miles per day. The study also analyzed men’s 10-kilometer race performances, which is a good indicator of overall fitness. The fittest men had half the risk of developing cataracts compared to the least-fit men.

In the case of macular degeneration the results were even more remarkable. Runners who averaged between 1.2 and 2.4 miles per day had a 19 percent lower risk for the disease, and people who ran more than 2.4 miles per day had an impressive 42 percent and 54 percent lower risk.

If you aren’t keen on running, then the scientists involved in the study believe that it is quite likely that the studies’ results might apply to a lesser extent to smaller doses of more moderate exercise such as walking.

Worldwide attitudes to regulating health

January 22, 2009 by  
Filed under At Home, Fitness & Sport, Health


I know we often feel ‘nannied’ by the Government in many areas and health is certainly a prime one. There is the ‘no operation’ unless you lose weight/give up smoking lobby and the imposition of rules around tobacco and alcohol are no longer questioned. But we are not alone in facing new and increasing government interference in what was once nobody’s business but our own?

I reported last year on the new proposal in the US for government workers to have to pass a monthly medical or they get their health insurance cover paid, and what if the Government insisted on regularly checking your waistline once you hit 40?

Personally, I stopped checking it years ago and I don’t see what business that is of the Government’s but it is being proposed in Japan. Anyone deemed too fat would be forced to have dietary counselling and if they didn’t shift the weight there would be penalties both for them, and for their community. The Japanese government’s argument is similar to that of the public employee one in the US, in that it has to have an input of how people live because bottom line is that the Government pays for the consequences of their lack of health care. eg that it must regulate citizens’ lifestyles because it is paying their health costs.

In 2007 in the UK censorship for health reared its head over a TV ad when The Egg Information Service wanted to screen an advert, which featured comedian Tony Hancock, to celebrate its 50th birthday. The offending item came in an iconic series of ads made in the 1950′s and whose slogan encouraged viewers to ‘go to work on an egg’. The advertising watchdog said went against the principle of eating a varied diet and refused to allow it to be shown.

Oh, and if you are fed up with all this and thinking of emigrating, I wouldn’t put New Zealand on your list unless you are healthy and slim, or willing to diet. Their government banned an overweight man and his wife from entering the country on the grounds that their obesity would “impose significant costs … on New Zealand’s health or special education services.” It had the right effect as he lost weight and was allowed in, but his wife couldn’t stick to the regime and had to stay home.

If you don’t watch your weight in Germany you are named as being “antisocial” for the amount of money you are costing the state in medical treatment.

If you know of a nice country that allows you to take responsibility for your own health then let me know and I will compile a list.

Is gardening the new gym workout?

I love two for one offers, and apparently gardening is not only going to provide you with lots of organic fruit and vegetables, and flowers to brighten your life, but apparently it has now been declared healthy, too.

A report from the American Society for Horticultural Science (30 December 2008), has given us the glad news that being fit is not just about eating fewer calories but it also provides the right amount of recommended physical activity for the over 60′s. It’s generally recommended that for optimum fitness you need at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week – which can be hard to fit into a schedule, and as my readers know I am full of admiration for those who have the discipline to go the gym regularly, but I have no intention of joining them.

But gardening is a pleasurable activity and one that is very popular; previous research has shown that it results in improvement in mental health and depression and a recent study from Kansas State University wanted to find out how it could affect fitness compared to such activities as jogging, swimming, or weight training. They anticipated good results on bone density because of the weight bearing activities related to gardening – mowing the lawn, digging holes, pulling up weeds, pushing the wheelbarrow in case you are interested – because all these tasks involve, using all the muscle groups in the body.

Obviously the time you spend in the garden varies according to the time of year from up to 33 hours a week in May down to 15 hours a week in June and July – and it does depend on what part of the country you live in. As we get older we are risk of having less strength, endurance, flexibility, balance, and a healthy heart but we are also less likely to exercise because we find it boring. Gardening is a year round physical activity that engages our mind and our body and now we can also cite is as our ‘free and natural gym’. No membership required, but I am wondering how I can spend 33 hours a week on a balcony 6 feet by 3 feet – does sitting watching the garden grow count do you think?

Exercise? Pop a pill

November 21, 2008 by  
Filed under Fitness & Sport, Natural Medicine

Athletics and drugs have sadly often gone hand in hand, and now a new research breakthrough which is intended to help people who cannot exercise much or at all, due to incapacity or illness, could be high on the list for cheating athletes.

Steroids boost muscle power so are misused by those needing strength in their events, but so far a drug that can build the endurance needed to run a marathon or take part in the Tour de France has not been available. Now, it could be. We have two types of muscle that move our body: bulky, fast-twitch muscles for power and speed, and slender slow-twitch muscles for endurance. Fast-twitch muscles burn sugar that must be stored in the muscle itself, while slow-twitch muscle burns fat.

A new study on mice at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California suggests that there is a drug that can trick the body into “believing” it has exercised. A drug that has been developed for the treatment of metabolic disease, when taken in combination with exercise, gives mice the ability to run farther than exercise alone can and a separate chemical gave them greater endurance, even without the exercise.

Earlier studies had found that a red wine ingredient called resveratrol could build endurance, but only at enormous doses and by uncertain means. The natural route’s success, however limited, as usual set up a search for a pharmaceutical substitute. The chemicals tested in the new study are thought to work by specifically tapping into the molecular mechanisms that normally re-programme our muscle genes in response to exercise.

Of course it might not work on people, but the research team had previously found they could genetically engineer mice to produce more of the fat-burning slow-twitch muscle fibres, giving them nearly twice the running endurance of untrained adults. The key was boosting the activity of a gene in muscle called PPARd, known to control other genes important to muscle metabolism.

The researchers gave mice an experimental drug, known only as GW1516, that increases PPARd activity and is currently being tested for the treatment of metabolic disease in humans. However, the drug had no effect on the muscles and so they tried giving it to mice who were undergoing exercise training. I have a cute but entirely unfounded vision of a Stuart Little character with mini barbells in satin running shorts – or is that just me? The same dose and duration of GW1516 that had previously failed to alter performance, when paired with four weeks of exercise training, increased the animals’ running time by 68% and their running distance by 70%. The muscles of those mice also showed a unique “endurance gene signature,” including patterns of gene activity not seen with either the drug or exercise alone, according to the investigators. They then decided to try one more thing: a chemical known as AICAR that was known to act on a protein in the body called AMPK. The results are impressive, even in sedentary mice, four weeks of AICAR treatment alone induced metabolic genes and enhanced running endurance by 44%.

When developed and trialled fully, this has therapeutic potential in treating certain muscle diseases such as wasting and frailty as well as cases of obesity where exercise is known to be beneficial but not physically possible. We also appear to be training mice for the 2012 Olympics, or at least increasing their fitness to levels which should help them run from the fastest cat in your home.

Exercise lowers post menopausal breast cancer risk

November 5, 2008 by  
Filed under Fitness & Sport, Womens Health

Breast cancer is a serious concern for women, and anything we can do to minimise that risk has got to be good news – especially when it’s natural, and free. An eleven year follow up study from the National Cancer Institute in the USA on over 23,000 women, appears to suggests that women who reported the highest levels of physical activity had an almost 20% lower risk of breast cancer compared with women who exercised the least. Two pointers here: the activity has to be vigorous or it appears to have no influence on reducing the risk, and the benefits were seen only in women who were fairly slim. As postmenopausal women have a tendency to put on weight, it seems as though combining exercise with a sensible diet might also be in order.

The survey defined vigorous activity to include scrubbing floors, chopping wood, and running or fast jogging. Though obviously not at the same time – how many women in the States still chop wood? They also defined non-vigorous exercise as activities including washing clothes, lawn mowing, and walking. They obviously have much more powerful lawn powers in the US that do all the work for you, rather than the old push-me pull-you mowers of my childhood which no one could define as non-vigorous as the aching back and arms afterwards would testify.

The message is clear; if you want to avoid post-menopausal breast cancer – especially if you have any history of it in your family – you could start by walking briskly to the nearest salsa class and then jogging home.


If you are thinking of taking up running the marathon – as many do to help breast cancer charities – then please approach with caution and do it under professional supervision. Why? Well, there is now accumulating evidence from recent studies that pushing your body to run 26.2 miles can cause at least minor injury to your heart.

Dr Arthur Siege is director of internal medicine at Harvard’s McLean Hospital in, Massachusetts – and he has run 20 marathons. He is the ideal man to study the subject and he has published many studies on the health consequences of marathons. His main conclusions that you might want to think about before you strap on the running shoes are that the physical effects of running a marathon include changes in your immune system and kidney function, but obviously your muscles take the worst punishment. The further you run then your muscles stiffen and this can result in injury-signalling enzymes leaking through the heart membrane, and that is consistent with significant stress on the heart.

Benefits of Tai Chi for arthritic knees

November 3, 2008 by  
Filed under featured, Fitness & Sport, Healthy Ageing

Well anyone who is a regular reader, or has heard me speak, knows I am a great fan of Tai Chi for so many reasons. It is a traditional Chinese martial art that combines meditation with slow, gentle movements, deep breathing, and relaxation and any age or fitness can undertake it – just think of those elderly people you see doing it in the public parks in China. You can do it at home in 10 minutes, get a video to teach you or – best option of all is to find a qualified teacher and join a group. You will improve your fitness, helps build bone strength, lower your blood pressure, reduce stress levels and cultivate calm centredness. All good things, and now there is another one to add to the list – it can help if you have arthritic knees.

The American College of Rheumatology has just reported on a study done in Boston which found that patients with osteoarthritis of the knee benefited more from Tai Chi than from the traditional stretching exercises that such patients are usually given. Osteoarthritis sufferers experience interlinked pain, muscle weakness, and structural damage and where Tai Chi really scored was that it improved pain scores THREE times better than stretching. Researchers also concluded that the meditation, deep breathing, and relaxation involved may also benefit patients and it is recommended by the Arthritis Foundation. Personal recommendation is the best way to find a good teacher, so ask around your local area, health stores and alternative health centres can be good sources. The Tai Chi Union For Great Britain can offer you a register of practitioners throughout the country at or in Scotland you could contact the East Winds School of T’ai Chi Chu’an at If you are looking in the London area then I can personally recommend Jon Wallwork as a wonderful teacher and he can be contacted by email at

More vitamin C = More weight loss

Poor old vitamin C, it must be a totally schizophrenic soul because one week it’s the villain as it reportedly can make chemotherapy less effective – though not everyone agrees with that – and this week it’s the hero if you are trying to lose weight. A new study from Arizona State University has found that if you have low vitamin C levels it means your body burns fat more slowly and that holds up weight loss. You can take a supplement, or stock up on Vitamin C-rich foods like oranges, strawberries,kiwis and tomatoes.

Golfers live longer

Though it may just seem that way if you happen to be a ‘golf widow/widower!’ I don’t think of Sweden as a golfing nation, but a study conducted by the Karolinska Institutet, and published in the ‘Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports’, has revealed that people who played golf had a 40% lower mortality rate than their equivalent non-golfing counterparts. In real terms that means they can expect to live 5 years longer.

A round of golf means being outside for four or five hours, walking at a fast pace for six to seven kilometres, all of which are things that are known to be good for health. Also, golf is a game people usually play well into their old age so maintain their level of fitness, plus there are other social and psychological aspects to the game that can be of help.

Mental acuity, plus physical exercise and companionship is a very potent cocktail, and, it may seem unfair, but their research also found that golfers with the lowest handicap enjoyed the lowest mortality rates. It seems this is because it takes more playing time to reach a higher level of proficiency in the game, so you are out in the fresh air and exercising for longer. Another good reason to lower your handicap!

Retrain your brain after stroke

Apparently just walking on a treadmill every day for six months can really help stroke victims regain control of mind and body – even years after their stroke. A German study of stroke victims, half of the whom could walk without assistance with the rest used a cane, a walker, or a wheelchair, has found that using a treadmill not only improved walking speed and fitness, but appeared to rewire their brain circuits. The repetitive walking action seemed to recruit unused brain circuits to take over for those destroyed by the stroke and MRI scans showed greater activity in other parts of the brain too. Stroke patients are typically told to learn to live with their disabilities, and most rehabilitation programmes focus on short-term improvement, ending just a few months after the stroke, so that over time the patients’ improvement plateaus and fitness often wanes. But this study suggests that it’s never too late for the brain and body to recover, the researchers said, noting that patients in the study had significant improvement even nine years after a stroke.

Given up smoking? Take up gardening!

If you know anyone who has recently given up smoking, or is thinking of doing so, then there is some great news on a really substantial benefit if they will also take up a very specific form of physical exercise. Former smokers can decrease their risk of developing lung cancer by up to an amazing 45%, and if they also reform their diet they can reduce their risk even further. These findings came out of a study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research’s Sixth Annual International Conference in Philadelphia this month.

Researchers studied 3,800 women and men using a pairing system that sorts people according to smoking status. Therefore, smokers with lung cancer would only be compared to smokers without lung cancer, with the same pairing taking place for former smokers and those who have never smoked. Researchers compared those who had not developed lung cancer based on a variety of factors including exposure to secondhand smoke, dust exposure, family cancer history, personal respiratory history, diet and exercise.

The ‘exercise’ that is credited with this decrease in risk is gardening, because apparently that is one of the few activities that people with lung cancer report doing. So the former smokers who gardened reduced their lung cancer risk by 45% percent, while current smokers who gardened reduced their risk by 33%. Hopefully they were also growing their own vegetables because eating four or more salads a week reduced their risk by 67 percent, and for those still smoking who gardened and chomped on the green stuff they reduced their risk by 71% Time to get out the garden spade, rake and dibber and get planting.

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