Are DNA fitness assessments good value for money?

Fitness tracking devices have helped many people to improve their exercising, but they are standardised tools.

 

Fitness tracking devices have helped many people to improve their exercising, but they are standardised tools.

The problem with them that they are neither accurate nor sophisticated enough yet.

So personalised DNA testing sytems are growing.

“As well as providing data for us, companies need to provide coaching with this data. They need to take responsibility for the results they’re providing us,” says Prof Lane.

And Plextek’s Ms Johnson thinks they need to understand more about the individual user.

“They need to recognise whether Sharon from Uxbridge really should be doing two hours of fitness a week, how that’s going to impact upon her body, her joints, whether she’s at risk of osteoporosis.

“Fitness trackers can be too generic, personalising them will motivate us more,” she told the BBC.

Apps, like the Slimming World app, may be better for achieving sustained weight loss, she argues, because they allow you to track your weight loss progress and give you incentives after it has recorded your exercise.

“There is no doubt the industry is booming, but for it to really see results it needs not only to give us results, but to make them as personalised and as accurate as possible.”

 

So what tech innovations are making fitness tracking more effective?

Genetics and nutrition firm DNAFit advises on how we should be training and what we should be eating after testing our genes and applying its algorithm to the analysis.

You take a saliva swab and send it off to the company’s lab. After 10 days a report tells you which exercises your body will respond to best and which foods you should be eating. The company says its technology platform has been peer reviewed and clinically tested.

Other companies such as FitnessGenes, Genetrainer and AnabolicGenes adopt similar approaches.

Jo Rooney, 35, a deputy headteacher, used the test to try to cure her stomach problems.

“My results came back quite quickly and told me that I was actually lactose intolerant and had a high sensitivity to gluten.

“This did mean quite a radical change to my diet, and a lot more forward planning, but within a week I felt a lot less bloated, lost weight and I’d stopped having stomach problems.”

Body of evidence

Body scanners and tech built into sports clothes are also giving us more detailed results.

For example, Fit3D uses scanners to assess the whole body to calculate body fat percentage, assess posture and give body shape scoring.

While last year, OMsignal launched OMbra, a smart sports bra that tracks heart rate, breathing and distance between steps, and shares this data with a smartphone app.

Prof Lane believes that we’re also going to start seeing biometric devices integrated not just into clothes and wearable devices, but directly on to our bodies as well.

For example, US tech firm Chaotic Moon Studios – now called Fjord – has created a prototype tech tattoo – a skin-mounted monitor that connects to your smartphone to monitor heart rate, blood pressure and even track movement via GPS.

Now we just need an injection of willpower.

 

 

Are fitness trackers good value for money?

Fitness tracking devices have helped many people to improve their exercising.

 

Fitness tracking devices have helped many people to improve their exercising.

Wearable and portable fitness trackers are certainly helping serious elite athletes to push themselves to the limit.

But what about the rest of us? Does knowing how many calories we’re burning, how fast our hearts are beating, and how many steps we’ve taken really motivate us to do more exercise and eat more healthily?

In short, do they really work?

“They’ve made us all aware of how we treat our bodies, and they have even helped people diagnose things like diabetes and obesity,” says Collette Johnson, head of marketing at design technology consultancy Plextek.

Last year the University of Pittsburgh concluded that fitness trackers were “ineffective at sustaining weight loss”.

The two-year study, conducted by the university’s School of Education Department of Health and Physical Activity, involved 500 overweight volunteers. All were asked to diet and engage in more exercise, but only half were given a fitness tracker to help them.

The study found that the group wearing trackers lost 8lb (3.6kg), but the ones who didn’t lost 13lb (5.9kg).

“Trackers are a reliable measurement of our activity, but we can’t rely on them completely,” says Andrew Lane, professor of sport psychology at the University of Wolverhampton.

“We can’t expect just to buy one and that’s it – some of the responsibility sits with us too. We still have to get off that sofa and complete those 10,000 steps a day.”

Prof Lane believes that, if used inappropriately, they may even start to have a negative psychological effect.

“What if we start consistently not reaching goals set for us by them? Ultimately it would lead to us feeling demotivated – the opposite effect they are supposed to have.”

 

Leading wearable fitness tracker maker Fitbit reported 2015 revenues of £1.3 billion, while researcher CSS Insight forecasts that the market will be worth £16 billion by 2020.

And the fact that smartwatch sales declined sharply last year, according to market analysts IDC, has led many makers to reposition them primarily as fitness tracking devices – another indication of where the business potential lies.

Such concerns haven’t stopped the market from booming – yet. Please see our next blog post for more information

 

From couch to 5K: tips for new runners.

With the start of the New Year we thought that we would give you some advice if one of your New Year’s resolutions is to get moving a bit more.

 

With the start of the New Year we thought that we would give you some advice if one of your New Yera's resolutions is to get moving a bit more.

Here’s some expert advice to get you started on the Couch to 5K running plan, including what to wear, warming up and nutrition.

If you haven’t exercised for a while, chances are you may not have any suitable clothing. Don’t let this be an excuse – once you have the outfit sorted, you’re far more likely to feel motivated to get out there and use it.

You need a pair of running shoes. Shop around and find sales staff with some technical knowledge. A decent pair of running shoes can cost around £30 to £40, and running socks can also reduce your risk of blisters.

In terms of clothing, you don’t really need technical gear. You just need something loose and comfortable in a breathable material, like cotton. If you keep running regularly after completing Couch to 5K, some specialist clothing would be a good investment.

Women should also consider using a sports bra, which is sturdier than a regular bra and provides additional support. Normal bras reduce breast movement by around 30%, but a good sports bra achieves closer to 55%.

Warming up and down

Include a five minute walk at the beginning and end of the session. Don’t just go out the front door and start running, make sure you go through the preparatory brisk walking stage. As for stretching before a run, opinion is divided on whether this is necessary or even helpful.

For a warm-down, the worst thing you can do is stop running and immediately sit down, so keep walking until you’re fully recovered.

You may want to put on an extra layer of clothing while cooling down, as this will stop you getting cold. For tips on cooling down exercises, read how to stretch after exercise.

How to run

Good running technique will help make your runs feel less tiring, reduce your risk of injury and, ultimately, be more enjoyable.

Avoid striking the ground with your heel or your forefoot first. Landing on the middle of your foot is the safest way to land for most recreational runners. Your foot should land below your hips – not right in front of you.

Eating and drinking

It’s important to have energy for your run, but don’t overdo it. Avoid having a large meal within two hours of your run. You need blood to be in your muscles, not your digestive system. However, a light snack, such as a banana, before running is fine.

As for water, provided you are drinking enough throughout the day, this should not be problem. Some people like to have a water bottle with them while running. If you’re thirsty, drink – just not too much.

If you have decided to start a Parkrun, you are probably making a commitment to becoming more active. This is great and is so important for your health, but making a change like this will require effort and dedication.

Persuade a friend or relative to get involved too. Running with a buddy can really help. Family members need at least to be supportive – it would be fantastic if they can buddy you and come along for a run.

Robin also says it’s important to accept in advance that you will encounter setbacks in your journey. You might have a hectic week at work, be away from home, or even experience illness or injury.

If you’re feeling under the weather – particularly if you have a temperature – do not run. It could be dangerous. But lapse is not failure. Everyone lapses, just don’t give up. It doesn’t matter – as long as you get back on the programme.

 

Regular exercise is associated with a reduced occurrence of Colds

New research has found that elevated levels of exercise reduced the incidence of colds

 

New research has found that elevated levels of exercise reduced the incidence of colds

Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI) can be caused by more than 200 different viruses, and it is estimated that the U.S. population suffers more than one billion colds a year (2-4 per average adult, 6-10 per average child).

A number of lifestyle factors contribute to URTI risk, including poor nutrient status, lack of sleep, and stress. A new paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine adds exercise habits to the list of lifestyle factors affecting URTI risk.

1,023 subjects between 18 and 85 years of age were recruited for this study, with 1,002 individuals completing all study requirements. Subjects were selected from multiple BMI groups (roughly one-third were of normal weight, one-third were overweight, and one-third were obese) to ensure adequate representation.

A comprehensive validated survey on lifestyle, diet, activity levels, stress, and URTI incidence and severity was completed by each study participant.

After controlling for potential cofounders, total days with URTI symptoms were 43-46% lower in the highest third of aerobic activity when compared to the lowest third, while URTI severity was reduced 32-41% for the high group.

Low stress levels, high exercise frequency (=5 days/week), and high fruit intake (=3 servings/day) also correlated with reduced URTI incidence.

The exact mechanism by which aerobic exercise reduces URTI risk is still uncertain, although it appears to be a combination of factors, including transient increases of certain immune cell types, a reduction of stress hormones, and specialized benefits to key organs (particularly the lungs, which serve as a primary barrier against URTIs).

Nieman DC, Henson DA, Austin MD, Sha W. Upper respiratory tract infection is reduced in physically fit and active adults. Br J Sports Med. 2011;45(12):987-92.

Weekend Warriors’ reap significant health benefits with fitness blitz

Weekend Warriors who shun exercise during the working week then embark on a fitness blitz on their days off, gain almost the same benefits as those following daily guidelines, a new study has shown.

 

Weekend Warriors who shun exercise during the working week then embark on a fitness blitz on their days off, gain almost the same benefits as those following daily guidelines, a new study has shown.

Previously experts believed that intensive activity at the weekend was not enough to stave off five days of sedentary inactivity, hunched over a desk.

But a new study suggests that the Weekend Warrior lifestyle actually offers significant longterm health benefits, lowering the risk of early death from cancer and heart disease.

“The weekend warrior activity pattern, characterised by one or two sessions per week of moderate or vigorous physical activity, may be sufficient to reduce risks for all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality regardless of adherence to prevailing physical activity guidelines,” said lead author Dr Gary O’Donovan, of Loughborough University.

The NHS recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity, or at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity, or equivalent combinations.

But some small studies have suggested that cramming a week’s worth of exercise into just one or two days can increase the risk of injury and put too much pressure on the heart.

The new research followed more than 63,000 British adults between 1994 and 2012 to find out if exercise needed to be done on a daily basis.

During the study period there were 8,802 deaths from all causes, 2,780 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 2,526 from cancer.

But the risk of death fell significantly for all those who exercised, regardless of whether they crammed all their activity into the weekend, or spaced it out through the week.

Compared to inactive individuals, Weekend Warriors had a 30 per cent low risk of death overall, a 40 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and 18 per cent lower risk of dying from cancer.

Those who spread out their exercise through the week had a 35 per cent lower risk of overall death, 41 per cent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and 21 per cent lower risk of cancer.

“It is very encouraging news that being physically active on just one or two occasions per week is associated with a lower risk of death, even among people who do some activity but don’t quite meet recommended exercise levels,” said senior author Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the University of Sydney.

“However, for optimal health benefits from physical activity it is always advisable to meet and exceed the physical activity recommendations.”

The study found that more men than women were ‘Weekend Warriors’, a divide of 56 per cent to 44 per cent, while around 55 per cent divided their activity over two days and 45 per cent crammed all exercise into a single day.

The results also showed that even people who did not meet the 150 minute recommendation, but still did some exercise, had a lower risk of death.

“Compared to inactive people, the results reveal that the insufficiently active, weekend warriors and people with regular physical activity patterns had reduced risks of death,” added Dr Stamatakis.

“This finding persisted after adjusting for chronic diseases and excluding those who died in the first two years of the study.

“These results mean that ‘Weekend Warriors’ and other leisure-time physical activity patterns characterised by one or two sessions per week may provide beneficial health outcomes event when they fall short of physical activity guidelines.”

The research was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Children need three hours exercise a day – Finland

The recommended amount of exercise for young children in Finland has increased from two to three hours a day.

The recommended amount of exercise for young children in Finland has increased from two to three hours a day

Children should spend at least three hours a day performing physical activities, according to the Finnish government.
Parents have been advised to actively encourage their children to pursue hobbies and interests that require physical exertion.
Children aged eight and under have been targeted in the move.
Finland is known for producing some of the most physically fit children in Europe. It also produces some of the highest academic results among schoolchildren in the developed world.
Finland’s Minister for Education and Culture, Sanni Grahn-Laasonen, believes this is no coincidence. Ms Grahn-Laasonen said physical activity contributed to a child’s happiness and promoted learning by developing a young person’s ability to interact socially.
“When children exercise together they develop interaction skills and connect socially, and it’s healthy, too,” she told local media.
The minister’s recommendation has been embraced by those who set the educational agenda, with the move expected to have a positive impact on results.
Anneli Rautiainen, head of basic education with the Finnish National Board of Education, told the BBC that schools would now be experimenting with new ways of teaching.
“In our new curriculum, we are looking at two to three hours a week of physical education and more outdoor activities. But we are also looking at non-traditional ways of teaching,” she said.
These include removing desks and chairs from some classrooms, so that children are not sitting as much while learning regular subjects.
“Some children learn very well sitting at a desk and listening, others would benefit greatly from moving around the room talking with their classmates,” said Ms Rautiainen.
“The child has an active role. We will emphasise personalised learning. The learning environment should be modern and support different learners.”
Finland is one of the first countries to put forward these recommendations, which will use classrooms to connect physical exercise with traditional learning.
A report published last month by the child and family services change programme revealed that young people in Finland were in favour of more physical activity in schools.
The idea was widely supported among those questioned, who suggested using the school gym during breaks and increasing out-of-hours school club activities.
What is the current recommendation and why are Finnish children so fit?
Finland’s obsession with health dates back to the 1970s, when it had the highest rate of deaths from heart-related issues in the world. This was largely due to a thriving dairy sector, which played a large part in the Finnish diet.
In an effort to tackle the issue from a young age, schoolchildren were weighed on an annual basis and the results were recorded in end-of-year reports.
This led to the Finnish National Nutrition Council, a government body that issues dietary guidelines, eventually introducing a directive that schools should not only provide free lunches, but that the food should be nutritional.
According to the WHO, Finland’s population is still among the healthiest, but economic, social and cultural developments through globalisation are having a detrimental impact.

Watching TV for more than three hours was associated with an increased risk of premature death for all but the most active.

Researchers suggest this is likely to be because people might snack while they watch, or because they are more likely to watch TV after eating their evening meal which might affect their metabolism.

Researchers suggest this is likely to be because people might snack while they watch, or because they are more likely to watch TV after eating their evening meal which might affect their metabolism.

It could, they say, also be a sign of a more unhealthy lifestyle in general.
Dr Pedro Hallal of Brazil’s Federal University of Pelotas looked at the effect of the Olympics on the general public’s activity levels.
He said that, despite a blip around the Games where people temporarily take up a sport, there is no long-term legacy.
“There’s been no health legacy of the Olympics reported ever, but it’s the perfect time to talk about human movement.”
The scientists said governments should ensure their policies encouraged physical activity – citing the example of a bus scheme where stops are placed further apart to encourage walking – and employers should make it easier for staff to be active during their working day – such as flexible lunch breaks and the provision of showering facilities.
Lisa Young, a physical activity specialist at the British Heart Foundation said: “Although we recognise the link between sedentary behaviour and poor health, we do advocate further research in this area to establish categorical statistics in relation to cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.”
Dr Mike Loosemore, from the English Institute of Sport, said: “An hour of brisk walking is hard work this is essentially moderate exercise, I suspect not many people would be able to manage that amount of moderate activity a day.
“So if you change the guidelines then it puts them even further out of reach of the people who would benefit most from increasing their physical activity, which are those that do very little.
“For the vast majority of people while the best way to stay healthy would be to do an hour of moderate activity a day, realistically the best place to start is reducing your sedentary behaviour at work by sitting less and try to increase whatever physical activity you are doing.”

Hour’s activity offsets sedentary day

Office workers are advised to take regular breaks from their desks.

Office workers are advised to take regular breaks from their desks

An hour’s “brisk exercise” each day offsets the risks of early death linked to a desk-bound working life, scientists suggest.
The analysis of data from more than a million people is part of a study of physical activity published in the Lancet to coincide with the Olympics.
Watching TV was found to be worse than sitting at a desk, probably because of associated habits like snacking.

Current NHS guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.

Being inactive is known to increase the risk of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
It has been linked to 5.3 million deaths globally a year – compared with 5.1 million linked to smoking.
A cheat’s guide to staying active
The Lancet research says the global cost, for healthcare and lost productivity, is estimated at £57 billion per year.
To look at the the impact of activity and inactivity, researchers went back to the authors of 13 existing papers and asked all of them to reanalyse their data.
People were classed depending on how active they were – from the least active who did less than five minutes a day, up to 60-75 minutes a day for the most active.
Researchers then looked at how many people died during the follow-up period – between two and 14 years.

Those who sat for eight hours a day, but were physically active, had a much lower risk of premature death compared with people who sat for fewer hours a day, but were not active.

Sitting for a long time as well as being inactive carried the greatest risk.
Prof Ulf Ekelund, of the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences and the University of Cambridge, led the study.
He said: “For many people who commute to work and have office-based jobs, there is no way to escape sitting for prolonged periods of time. For these people in particular, we cannot stress enough the importance of getting exercise, whether it’s getting out for a walk at lunchtime, going for a run in the morning or cycling to work.
“An hour of physical activity per day is the ideal, but if this is unmanageable, then at least doing some exercise each day can help reduce the risk.”
But he admitted: “One hour’s moderate activity is substantially higher than current recommendations.”

 

How was your weekend running?

With the summer in full swing now is the time to take advantage of the weather.

With the summer in full swing now is the time to take advantage of the weather.
After a few weeks of last-minute-marathoning, recovering, and holidaying in Japan, it’s time to restart.

I’ve been doing little but easy running – and not all that much of that. So on Saturday it was time for my first track session in a few weeks. I’d forgotten how quickly you get out of the habit – it wasn’t so much the reps (1500ms, ugh) as the fact that for the entire afternoon I felt like each limb suddenly weighed four stone more.

Obviously my brain was suffering from some kind of oxygen deficit too as I nevertheless decided this was the ideal time to embark on massive spring clean of the house. Fool.

But though it is still just spring, I’ve got an autumn marathon target in mind and that’s not (alas) going to run itself, so it’s time for me to get back into proper training. And – horror! – going easy on the cake for a bit too.

Anyone who is in our Strava group (please join if you aren’t) can look forward to me whimpering virtually after Tuesday track sessions and Thursday tempo runs – and all the rest. Now if that doesn’t tempt you to join .

Meanwhile, the race season is starting to get to the shorter stuff for distance runners – 5km, 10km – and the mile season beckons. The nice thing about all those distances is that you can, if finances and time allow, string together quite a few of them over a summer.

Recovery is quick, so if it doesn’t go quite right, you can enter another. I’ll be doing the Vitality 10km (formerly known as the Bupa 10km) so do let me know if anyone else is, and fancies a meet updute.

Finally, anyone in London this coming Saturday should most definitely head to Parliament Hill for the Night of the 10km PBs. This brilliant, free and fun event is now not only a place to drink beer while watching the best of British runners, but the official Olympic Team GB trials. Come and cheer in an outside lane – did I mention it’s free?

So over to you. How was your weekend running? Racing, race planning or training, or just enjoying some Vitamin D? Comments, suggestions, inspiration below the line as always, please.

Is a stand up desk really healthier?

Standing up at your desk reduces sitting, but not by the amount experts recommend.

Standing up at your desk reduces sitting, but not by the amount experts recommend.

Our sedentary lifestyles are increasingly being blamed for a range of problems. Stand-up and treadmill desks might seem to be the answer, but is it worth shelling out for one?

Sitting is the new smoking – blamed for increasing the risk of heart disease and cancer, as well as diabetes and obesity. Health guidelines suggest we should spend 150 minutes a week in moderate exercise, but many of us sit down for more than half the working day – email means we don’t even have to get up to talk to anyone.

So it is not surprising that there is a gap in the market.

Stand-up, sit-stand and treadmill desks are all the rage. Google and Microsoft have allegedly bought stacks of treadmill desks – modified treadmill bases attached to work surfaces. The manufacturer of TrekDesk says that a treadmill-desk set at a walking speed of 1.5km an hour will burn 2.6 calories a minute. Such energy expenditure does not come cheap: desks cost upwards of £1,000. But do they make people more active and healthier, or are they this year’s corporate gimmick?

Is sitting down bad for my health?

The research so far is inconclusive. The benefits may be more myth than reality. A systematic review by Cochrane researchers looked at 26 studies with 2,174 people. They found that sit-stand desks reduced sitting by between 30 minutes and two hours a day. While this sounds impressive, the researchers say the studies mostly did not deliver the up-to-four-hours of standing that experts recommend.

Standing desks were also not found to have much benefit in weight reduction – if an average-sized man and woman spent half of their eight-hour working day standing, they would spend an additional 20 kilocalories and 12 kilocalories each.

This, point out the researchers, is not enough to prevent obesity or type 2 diabetes. Prolonged standing may also be difficult for people with low back pain.

Treadmill work stations, though, were found to reduce sitting by nearly half an hour in the Cochrane review and another systematic review found that they particularly benefited obese people, improving their levels of good cholesterol and reducing their waist circumferences.

So much for the physical effects, but what about productivity and brainpower?

Exercise is traditionally thought to improve the ability to think – but generally only after you have stopped doing it. A study in Plos One of 76 people randomly assigned to a treadmill (moving at 1.5mph) or a sitting desk found that the sedentary group did better at recalling lists of words and working out mental maths problems. It was easier to concentrate and remember from a sitting position. Unsurprisingly, it was also easier to type faster without making mistakes.

So, while the benefits of standing desks may be overstated, the risks of sitting are not. You can take walking breaks throughout the day and use the stairs, whatever desk you have.