Posts tagged with "Harvard Health"

Walk like a Viking: Nordic walking

December 6, 2019

We don’t usually imagine Vikings frolicking in the snow. Mostly, they are remembered for trading and raiding across Europe. However, while skiing originated in China, it was the Vikings who popularized the sport—especially cross-country skiing—according to the History Channel. In fact, the word, “ski,” comes from the Old Norse word “skio.”

And today, thousands of Americans have adopted the sport enthusiastically—both on snow and without it, according to a report by Harvard Health.

You may see them in your own neighborhood trails or sidewalks: exercisers mimicking the motion of cross-country skiing by using poles to push themselves. What they are doing is called Nordic walking. It was originally designed as a summer training routine for cross-country skiers. Now, it’s catching on as an exercise regimen, especially among older adults.

Indeed, according to Harvard Health, walking with Nordic poles burns  anywhere from 18% to 67% more calories and works more muscles than conventional walking.

Cardiologist Aaron Baggish—who is the director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center—told the newsletter that he is all for it. He just returned from a year of work and study in Switzerland, where he says Nordic walking is a common pastime among older adults. “You go to the train station on Saturdays and there are droves of people over 70 waiting to go up to the mountains to walk with Nordic poles,” says Dr. Baggish.

Nordic walking combines cardiovascular exercise with a vigorous muscle workout for your shoulders, arms, core, and legs. “When you walk without poles, you activate muscles below the waist. When you add Nordic poles, you activate all of the muscles of the upper body as well,” Dr. Baggish explains. “You’re engaging 80% to 90% of your muscles, as opposed to 50%, providing a substantial calorie-burning benefit.”

Nordic walking also is associated with reductions in fat mass, “bad” LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and waist circumference, and increases in “good” HDL cholesterol, endurance, muscle strength and flexibility, walking distance, cardiovascular fitness, and quality of life.

Another benefit: “You’re much more stable when you use poles, because you have more ground contact points and you’re not relying on two feet alone,” Dr. Baggish says.

Plus, Nordic walking is fun. It can be a great social activity if you join one of the Nordic walking clubs popping up across the country.

Dr. Baggish says most people are candidates for Nordic walking, even if they have balance problems. In fact, “if you have balance issues you’re the best candidate for this, because of the increased stability from the poles,” he says. “But you should still talk to your doctor first, especially if you have heart disease.”

Once you have the green light and a set of poles, you’ll need a walking route. You can walk on level surfaces or on varied terrain—anything from sidewalks to grassy fields or trails.

Research contact: @HarvardHealth

Have a bone to pick? Difficult or stressful relationships are linked to bone loss by researchers

October 11, 2019

When life is hard, women’s bones may get more malleable: Those are the findings of a study posted recently by the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

The study findings, which were posted online on July 9, established that women who reported high levels of social stress were more apt to develop a lower bone density over time, reports Harvard Health..

Researchers enrolled more than 11,000 postmenopausal women in the study, and asked them to fill out a questionnaire about their social anxiety levels; and to take a bone density measurement test.

At a follow-up appointment fully six years later, women who had reported high levels of stress at the initial interview showed a bigger decline in bone density, compared with participants who initially had reported lower stress levels.

 This was true even after the researchers adjusted for other factors that may affect bone health, such as age, weight, smoking, alcohol use, and education, among others.

The authors speculated that stress may harm bone health because stress leads to higher blood cortisol levels, a well-established reason for lower bone density. Further study is needed to understand and confirm the results.

Research contact: @HarvardHealth

Can you boost your memory by walking backward?

May 9, 2019

Lost your car keys? Trying to remember exactly where you saved the instructions your boss gave to you this morning? Instead of retracing your steps, you might want to try literally try backtracking—walking backward to jog your memory, according to a report by Harvard Women’s Health Watch.

A study published in the January issue of Cognition found that people who walked backward—or imagined they were walking backward, or even watched a video simulating backward motion—had better recall of past events than those who walked forward or sat still.

Why? That’s still something of a mystery, says Dr. Daniel Schacter, the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. But he thinks it is possible that people associate going backward with the past and this somehow triggers a memory response.

“We know it can’t have anything to do with how they’ve encoded the information,” says Dr. Schacter. After all, people weren’t walking backward when they stored the memories tested in this study. It may take future studies to shed additional light on the issue. “But I found the results intriguing,” he says.

Researchers decided to test the effect of backward movement on memory because numerous past studies have found links between motion and memory. They recruited 114 people to take part in six different memory experiments. In the experiments, they showed participants a video of a staged crime, a word list, or a group of images. They then asked the participants to walk forward, walk backward, sit still, watch a video that simulated forward or backward motion, or imagine walking forward or backward. The participants then answered questions related to the information they saw earlier.

In all cases, people who were moving backward, thought about moving backward, or saw a video depicting reverse motion were better able to recall the information they had been shown earlier, compared with those sitting still. In five of the six experiments, memory was better when people moved backward than when they moved forward. On average, the boost in memory lasted for ten minutes after people stopped moving.

In the staged crime experiment, for example, participants watched a video of a woman, sitting in a park, who has her bag stolen. Researchers tested how well people could answer 20 questions about the simulated crime, depending on the direction they moved or if they sat still. They found that people who walked backward were significantly more likely to answer more questions correctly, regardless of how old they were or other factors.

The findings suggest that this motion strategy might be a means of helping people better recall past events.

Dr. Schacter says backward motion could one day be added to existing techniques already in use to boost memory. One such method is called a cognitive interview. The interviewing technique helps people to recall details of a recent event, for example, if they witnessed a crime. “What interviewers are trying to do is get as much accurate information as they can without inducing a false memory,” says Dr. Schacter. They do this by metaphorically walking the person through the event forward and backward. It’s possible that literally walking backward may do something similar in the brain, he says.

Using backward motion could potentially augment the cognitive interview or be used as a separate technique, he says. One key question that remains to be answered, however, is whether the technique would promote accurate recall of everyday events, says Dr. Schacter. “It’s really too early to say whether there would be practical applications,” he says.

The study authors said that future research will look to uncover not only why this technique seems to improve memory recall, but also whether motion-based memory aids could help elderly adults or people with dementia.

In the meantime, will walking backward help boost your short-term memory? “This study would suggest that there are some circumstances where this might be the case,” says Dr. Schacter. “It may be worth trying.”

Research contact: @HarvardHealth