Health Notes: Moderate exercise means fewer colds; exercise won't shorten your life; cheap pedometers aren't so accurate

The SNEWS® Health Notes report looks at one or more recent pieces of research studies or reports about health, fitness, physical activity and wellness. This report looks at how exercise lowers the chance of a cold, how exercise won't lower your lifespan, and how cheap pedometers aren't so accurate.

This is another in an occasional series of SNEWS® Health Notes reports that will take a look at one or more recent pieces of research studies or reports about health, fitness, physical activity and wellness. We'll focus on news you can use and present results in plain English, without all the techno-garble that can make many research studies seem overwhelming to read, let alone understand and explain to somebody else. Let us know what you think, what you would like to see, and how you'd like to see it!

>> Can exercise prevent the common cold?
For the first time, a clinical trial with all the right controls has taken a long-term look at regular, moderate exercise -- specifically in post-menopausal women -- to see if there was any difference in how many times subjects came down with the common cold.

One group of women for a year was asked to exercise five days a week for 45 minutes either at a gym or at home. Most choose walking, researchers said, and the average achieved was about 30 minutes.

"They were supposed to do a little more exercise, but even so, we found it was enough activity to boost immune function in the long run," Cornelia Ulrich, the paper's senior author and an associate member of the Hutchinson Center's Public Health Sciences Division, said in a release.

The control group attended a weekly stretching class. All of the 115 women were previously sedentary and overweight.

After a year, Ulrich's team found that the women who were doing cardiovascular exercise had about half the number of colds compared to the others who did not do aerobic exercise. Apparently, the moderate aerobic routine raised the levels of so-called leukocytes, which are part of a family of immune cells that fight infection. In addition, the lower risk of catching colds increased with time, meaning the women in the exercising group had even fewer colds in the final three months of the year-long study -- only a third as many.

"This adds another good reason to put exercise on your to-do list, especially now that cold season is here," said Ulrich. "This suggests that when it comes to preventing colds, it's really important to stick with exercise long term."

Of note, is that more is not necessarily better. Other studies in the past have found that frequent amounts of long and exhaustive exercise can actually lower immunity.

So what? Along with telling customers that exercise can help them lose weight, tone up, lower cholesterol and all that other jazz, you can know say, "Hey, you may also just get fewer of those annoying sniffles and sneezes." That's a concrete effect that everyone would be grateful for.

For the scientifically minded:This appeared in the American Journal of Medicine, Vol. 119, Issue 11, pages 937-942, November 2006. Click here to see the full text of the article, free. Click here to see an abstract.

>> Exercise won't shorten your life
Get out the running shoes, weight-lifting gloves, bicycle, skis or hiking boots. People who pump up their heart rates regularly -- getting them going faster than that slow, sedentary buh-bump -- could actually live longer. Never mind that tale that you'll use up your allotted heart beats, the so-called "rate-of-living" theory.

"We've found further proof, which adds to a growing body of evidence, that the rate-of-living theory is not valid," said Theodore Garland Jr., a biology professor at the University of California, Riverside, and co-author of a study this fall at the American Physiological Society conference in Virginia Beach, Va.

Garland's study looked at 300 mice, 200 of which had been bred to love to run. In the study, 100 of the "running" mice had access to wheels to run, while the other 100 did not. The remaining 100 mice were regular lab mice that just happened to have a wheel hanging in their cages, but had not been trained or bred to run or not.

The bred running mice used 25 percent more energy during their lifetimes than the other two groups of mice, the researchers found. That means, based on that "rate-of-living" theory, the running mice should have died sooner than the sedentary ones. Wrong. The lifespans of the two groups were virtually identical.

So what? Forget that old wives' tale that everybody only has a certain number of heartbeats to use in their life -- that great ol' tale often touted by those who don't exercise. In fact, getting the heart revved up regularly can actually help somebody live longer, not to mention healthier.

For the scientifically minded: Although not yet printed in a journal, the research was presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Society in late 2006. To read more of the presentation's details, click here.

>> Cheap pedometers aren't so accurate
With the rise in popularity of step programs -- 10,000 steps a day is one in the press most often and used on some treadmills these days -- how accurate are low-end pedometers in counting steps?

Not very, it seems. A research group in Belgium had 35 people of all ages wear five brands of inexpensive pedometers and logged the counts against a highly sophisticated lab device.

Nearly three of four of the 673 pedometers tested over six days over- or under-estimated steps by more than 10 percent, the standard of error set as the maximum in either direction by the researchers. Of those, just over a third was so far off as to be laughable -- by more than 50 percent.

So what? Sure, we're concerned about accuracy. SNEWS® has tested the cheap-o pedometers handed out with one-time adult Happy Meals at McDonalds and found that just a twirl in the office chair "counted" as a few steps. That is, of course, unacceptable. But most pedometers that cost upward of $20 and particularly those that are about $30 or more can come pretty close -- close enough for government work, as we like to say. We believe the entire concept for the previously sedentary is really less about the exact number of steps as it is about motivation -- watching that number tick upward can get someone out of a chair, off the couch and moving down the street. And all of that is a great supplement to a more structured exercise program since the addition of lifestyle movement can be the push needed to help someone achieve their health and weight goals.

For the scientifically minded:Go to the British Journal of Sports Medicine -- Volume 40, pages 714-716, 2006 -- to see the abstract. Click here to get there.



How to Sell: Pedometers

A SNEWS® Training Center written by the editors of SNEWS® Despite all the high-tech gizmos on the market today that are promoted as helping to motivate and track a fitness program, pedometers remain a simple, inexpensive and relatively low-tech piece that can do that and more. more