Research says 14 days of inactivity increases risk of diabetes and heart disease

3 thought-provoking research articles you might have missed in May

I really enjoy reading research articles about exercise, nutrition, health and fitness. Although some studies sometimes contradict the findings of others, the general message from the boffins is definitely that moving more and eating sensibly is the key to a healthier life. Here are 3 thought-provoking research studies that ended up in my inbox in May.


Lazy holidays raise diabetes and heart disease risk

Here’s something to think about before you start packing for your lazy summer break on the beach.

According to University of Liverpool researchers, just 14 days of inactivity in healthy young people can reduce muscle mass and produce metabolic changes that could lead to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The researchers came to this conclusion after examining 28 physically active (average 10,000 steps per day) volunteers (mean age 25 years and mean BMI 25).

They assessed the participants’ metabolic and physical activity levels and undertook health checks – including fat and muscle mass analysis, and physical fitness levels – at the beginning of the study and after a 14-day step reduction protocol. The protocol reduced moderate-to-vigorous activity from a daily average of 161 minutes to 36 minutes (around 1,500 steps per day). At the same time, daily sedentary time increased by an average of 129 minutes.

After 14 days, the researchers saw significant changes in the participants’ body composition, including substantial loss of skeletal muscle mass and increases in total body fat. The changes in body fat tended to accumulate centrally, which is a major risk factor for developing chronic diseases. Cardio-respiratory fitness levels also declined sharply and the participants were unable to run for as long or at the same intensity as previously.

Lead author Dr Dan Cuthbertson said: “The results emphasise the importance of remaining physically active and highlight the dangerous consequences of continuous sedentary behaviour.

“Our day-to-day physical activity is key to abstaining from disease and health complications. People must avoid sitting for long periods of time.”

Find out more about the effects of 14 days of inactivity


Lifting your spirits doesn’t require many reps

Cycling and wellbeing

Engaging in light or moderate physical activity, such walking or cycling, is the best way for inactive people to beat the blues and improve their sense of wellbeing, according to a new study published in the Journal of Health Psychology.

The University of Connecticut research looked at 419 healthy middle-aged adults who wore accelerometers on their hips to track physical activity over four days. They also completed questionnaires asking them to describe their daily exercise habits, psychological wellbeing, depression level, pain severity, and extent to which pain interfered with their daily activities.

People who reported higher levels of inactivity also reported lower levels of subjective wellbeing and in general, increased physical activity improved people’s sense of wellbeing.

While light and moderate physical activity clearly made some people feel better about themselves, when it came to vigorous activity the results were neutral. There was no positive or negative association found between high intensity physical activity and subjective wellbeing.

According to study lead Gregory Panza, “We hope this research helps people realise the important public health message that simply going from doing no physical activity to performing some physical activity can improve their subjective wellbeing.”

Find out more about exercise and wellbeing


Walking can reverse memory loss

Older couple walking

Could starting a simple walking exercise programme help older adults to reverse declines in key brain regions?

A study led by University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers explored how a 12-week walking intervention with older adults (aged 60-88 years) affected the functionality of a brain region known to show declines in people suffering from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or Alzheimer’s disease.

The research team recruited two groups – one with 16 healthy older people and another with 16 individuals diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. Both groups participated in an exercise intervention that included walking for 30 minutes, four times a week (at 50-60% of heart rate reserve) for three months.

Participants underwent functional MRI brain scans before and after the exercise intervention to assess the connectivity between brain regions and a neural network hub that integrates and disperses signals. Memory loss and amyloid plaque accumulation, both signs of MCI and Alzheimer’s, are associated with loss of connectivity to this hub .

After completing the intervention, both groups were better able to remember a list of words; however, only the MCI group showed increased connectivity to the neuronal network hub.

Lead author Dr J Carson Smith said: “The neural network connectivity changes documented in this study provide hope that exercise training may stimulate brain plasticity and restore communication between brain regions that may have been lost through Alzheimer’s disease.

“The specificity of these effects in the MCI group further suggest that exercise may be particularly useful in those who have already experienced mild memory loss.”

Read more about walking and improving memory in older people