Health Notes: Overweight women gain life quality with only 10 minutes of exercise, growth hormones do zip for performance, how to read studies

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.This edition features: Overweight women gain quality of life with as little as 10 minutes of exercise. Growth hormone use won't help athletic performance. Understanding medical news.

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!

>> Overweight women gain quality of life with as little as 10 minutes of exercise

It doesn't take much to feel better. That was what a study found that was presented recently at a conference by the American Heart Association.

Inactive, overweight or obese women felt better and improved their quality of life doing as little as 10 minutes to 30 minutes a day of exercise, according to results from a study of post-menopausal women. The study put 430 women in four groups: three groups exercised at various levels and one control group did not exercise.

"While the women who participated in the highest exercise group saw the greatest improvements in most quality of life scales, the women in the lowest exercise group also saw improvements," said Angela Thompson, co-author of the study and research associate at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La. "The public health message is tremendous, because it provides further support for the notion that even if someone cannot exercise an hour or more daily, getting out and exercising 10 to 30 minutes per day is beneficial, too."

Participants in all exercise groups said they were able to simply function socially better than those in the non-exercising group. This doesn't mean that more isn't better: Women who did more exercise, from 135 to 150 minutes a week, also showed more improvements in general health, vitality and mental health, as well as improvements in limitations at work or with other activities. None reported any more "pain."

"This is the first large controlled study of postmenopausal women to look at the effect of exercise training on the quality of life. It shows that exercise gives you energy and makes you feel better," said Timothy S. Church, M.D., principal investigator and research director at Pennington Biomedical Research Center. After exercising six months, the women improved almost 7 percent in physical function and general health, 16.6 percent in vitality, 11.5 percent in performing work or other activities, 11.6 percent in emotional health and more than 5 percent in social functioning.

The four groups of woman, who averaged 57, exercised either about 70 minutes a week, 135 minutes a week or 190 minutes a week, dividing the time into three or four sessions each week. To determine physical health, they were asked about the types of activities they do, including carrying groceries or walking, as well as for their own assessment of their health. The women did a self-assessment of vitality, social activities, depression, happiness and peace to determine mental health.

What didn't affect the improvements in quality of life after six months was weight loss, although some women did lose weight.

"Physical activity not only provides a better quality of life but better balance, stronger bones and confidence in walking," Church said. "Start exercising for small amounts of time and then gradually work up to 150 minutes a week. A little is better than nothing."

So what? We are reminded that it's not about doing more, but just doing something. In fact, it may not even be about weight loss to just feel better. And if somebody feels better about themselves, they may exercise more.

For the scientifically minded: The research was presented at a conference and is not in a current journal. To read more information and scientific statements from the American Heart Association, go to

>> Growth hormone use won't help athletic performance

Despite reports of star athletes using growth hormones and improving their athletic abilities, it may not actually be reality.

A recent study in journal reviewed published trials compared no growth hormone to growth hormone treatments in health people ages 13 to 45. Although lean body mass increased in those who took the growth hormones, strength and exercise capacity did not. In fact, those who took it experienced soft-tissue swelling and more fatigue.

Because of that, taking growth hormones may actually decrease capacity and performance.

So what? There is not a magic pill. Taking supplements, even touted growth hormones, won't make you a better athlete or a better exerciser.

For the scientifically minded: Because of the importance of the findings, the paper was released early, but won't appear in the Annals of Internal Medicine until the May 20, 2008, edition. Meanwhile, it can be accessed by clicking here.

>> Understanding medical news

Sometimes research that is printed in the media that is read by consumers doesn't always agree with other things that have been printed in the past. What do you tell customers?

The Harvard Men's Health Watch recently offered tips about how to handle medical advice that changes:

Understand the different types of research you are likely to hear about: Randomized controlled clinical trials are the gold standard for medical research, and really the only way to prove whether an intervention is beneficial or harmful. Meta-analyses are also important -- they combine the results of many different studies and use sophisticated statistical techniques to analyze the pooled data. Observational studies can provide information on links between two factors, but they cannot prove that one factor caused another. Results from animal and laboratory studies should be considered preliminary.

Read behind the headlines. Beware of summaries that transform research findings into simplistic formulas for health, and focus on results that have been published in peer-reviewed medical journals.

Even high-visibility medical studies published in major journals are often contradicted or modified by subsequent research. This may be frustrating, but new information should always be welcome, even if it casts doubt on established beliefs.

When reading medical research, see how the new information fits into a personal health puzzle before deciding to change. Keep the big picture in mind, and remember to factor in personal preferences and priorities.

So what? Results may contradict each other as the years go by since research is meant to build upon itself, with the goal of one day knowing THE answer.