Regular Physical Activity Reduces Anxiety
Physical activity may prevent anxiety, but the importance of exercise intensity, sex-specific mechanisms, and duration of the effects remain largely unknown. A Swedish study reviewed the records of 395,369 individuals for up to 21 years to investigate if participation in an ultra long-distance cross-country ski race (Vasaloppet, up to 90 km) was associated with a lower risk of developing anxiety.
Skiers in the race were matched with non-skiers from the general population. Skiers (n = 197,685, median age 36 years, 38% women) had a significantly lower risk of developing anxiety during the follow-up compared to non-skiers. However, among women, higher physical performance (measured as the finishing time to complete the race, a proxy for higher exercise dose) was associated with a ~50% higher risk of anxiety compared to slower skiing women. Nonetheless, high-performing female skiers still had lower rates of anxiety than did the more sedentary controls. For men, the finishing time of the race did not significantly impact the risk of anxiety.
The results support the recommendations of engaging in physical activity to decrease the risk of anxiety in both men and women. But how much is too much, one might ask.
As one critic pointed out, “many individuals who have anxiety will avoid exercise to avoid these physical [competition anxiety] sensations.” This suggests that the impact of physical performance level on the risk of anxiety requires further investigations among women. As we saw from many Olympians recently.
Front Psychiatry Sept. 2021
Even Before the Pandemic, Americans Sit Way Too Much
In a multi-center study of sedentary behavior among Americans of all demographic groups done in the Fall of 2019, pre-covid, scientists used a “novel validated self-administered previous-day recall method and compared these values with a commonly used sitting time question.” The study of 2640 subjects ages 20-75 surveyed them twice over a 2-wk period by ‘unannounced invitation’ to complete a recall of activities of the prior day “from more than 170 individual activities organized in 14 major categories.” We’ve written so many times about this issue that it’s almost getting redundant but check it out here, here, here, and here.
The pool of respondents was 51% female, 66% Caucasian, ~65% college-educated, and 67% employed. Thirty-seven percent reported a BMI over 30, which puts them in the obese or very obese categories; 58% reported that they were active enough to meet guidelines for aerobic activity.
Based on the survey results, US adults spend an average of 9.5 hours/day being sedentary, way more than earlier 21st century studies had found: 5.5 – 6.4 hrs/day.
Of 5.2 hours/day of non-work-related time, the majority was spent being sedentary especially using electronic media – cell phones, anyone? – in the evenings. When compared to a convenience sample of adults using an accelerometer to measure activity, they found a 99% concurrence with self-reported activity. In studies of this nature, that’s an excellent corroboration of the research tool that was used here.
If pre-covid sitting was worse than expected, it’s hard to imagine it got better during covid.
MSSE Dec. 2021
The national recommendation for moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is to get in 150 minutes/wk. A recent study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that getting 300 mins/wk reduces the rate of stomach, uterine, colon, esophageal, breast and bladder cancers. Even moderate-intensity activity yielded these benefits, not to mention the reduction in stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and dementia risks. Harvard Health Letter Feb. 2022
Association is not causation, but a study in PLOS Medicine (Nov. 2021) reported that both coffee and tea reduce the risk of dementia and stroke but, together, moderate consumption lowered the risk of dementia by 28% and stroke by 32%. A health and dietary survey of over 365,000 British citizens noted these benefits as the subjects were followed for 11 years. The possibility exists that polyphenols, present in both coffee and tea, might act as a natural anti-inflammatory. Noted, too, is that it’s not the caffeine; those who drank decaf got the same benefits. Harvard Women’s Health Watch Feb. 2022
As we age, we lose muscle mass and aerobic capacity, even if we perform regular strength and cardiovascular exercise. A study in the Scientific Reports (Oct. 2021) had younger people wear activity trackers for 2 weeks to gage how much they moved and how much they slept. Then they had the subjects walk on a treadmill at a constant speed (via a metronome) that randomly increased and decreased the tempo. The test was to see how quickly their nervous systems responded by re-establishing their walking rhythm. Those who slept at least 6 hours/night did better than those who slept less than six. In other words, you need to sleep well to walk well. This, obviously, would impact older people even more since younger adults hadn’t yet started to lose physical capacities…yet. Harvard Men’s Health Watch Feb. 2022