Researchers discuss physical activity as a way of maintaining or improving health; daily walking is still the best exercise

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Obesity worsens the damage that arthritis does to joints, but simply telling patients to go home and diet and exercise is not working, and health care providers must proactively monitor their patients and help them find affordable solutions to succeed. And daily walking is still the best exercise.

Those were examples of research findings discussed at the 10th annual Center for Clinical and Translational Science conference sponsored by the University of Kentucky on March 25. More than 700 researchers, students, policymakers and guests discussed research with a focus on physical activity across the lifespan.

Stephen Messier, professor and director of a biomechanics laboratory at Wake Forest University, said obesity has a significant effect on joint health, particularly osteoarthritis, which he said is quite painful. He called for closer attention to obese patients with arthritis.

He said a study found that a combination of diet and exercise over an extended period of time offers the best results for less pain and less disability. He said that a separate study found those who lost 10 percent of their body weight had the most “significant outcomes” related to function, which included walking speed.

The conference featured 31 oral presentations and 270 poster presentations, addressing a vast array of topics including physical inactivity in children, physical inactivity in chronic disease and biomedical informatics.

“The conference was designed to raise awareness of the science behind the benefits of exercise and the dangers of physical inactivity,” Charlotte Petterson, professor and associate dean of research in the College of Health Sciences, who chaired this year’s conference, said in a UK press release.

The keynote speaker, Duke University medicine professor William E. Kraus, encouraged walking as a proven and simple activity that can improve health and actually extend life. “Fitness always trumps fatness,” he said, noting that a “culture of convenience” and conditions of built environments, such as absence of sidewalks, deter people from physical activity.

Research on fourth and fifth graders in two Clay County schools, while in the early stages of analysis, found that obesity and inactivity begins early.

Karyn Esser, professor of physiology at the UK College of Medicine, said her research was examining the circadian rhythms and physical activities of students because changes in natural circadian rhythms “can create pre-cursors to disease” in just seven days, even in healthy young people. She said her study is intended to help schools improve students’ health by adjusting meal times and offering physical activities to best coincide with circadian rhythms.

The data for Esser’s study was gathered through electronic devices that the 136 students wore for seven days to measure activity, heart rate and skin temperature. The students also kept a daily journal to record their activities. So far, Esser said, the data show 33 percent of the students are considered obese, their initial blood pressure measurements are on the high end of normal, and the students are less active on weekends and nights than during the school week.

Another UK study found that students who are more active during the school day do better in mathematics.

Alicia Fedewa and Heather Erwin of the College of Education said they found that increased physical activity levels “significantly improved” math scores and slightly improved reading scores of the students who got an extra 20 minutes of movement on each school day. They recommended two short 15-minute recesses per day, rather than one long one. They also said that classroom “energizers” and stability balls also help students with these behaviors.

The researchers said many studies show that students who participate in recess and physical education during the school day are more focused and less fidgety, show less listlessness, and have better overall classroom behavior. They said more controlled studies need to be conducted, but said most studies to date have found that fit kids have less anxiety and better overall well-being. Also, a regimen of consistent physical activity is best for kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

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