Brisk walking better for health than counting number of steps

Public Health England | June 2018 | Focus on brisk walking, not just 10,000 steps, say health experts

Public Health England (PHE) and the Royal College of GPs are encouraging adults to focus on brisk walking rather than counting the number of steps to improve their health. 


As part of the push to get adults doing more moderate intensity physical activity each day, health experts are encouraging people to increase the intensity of their walking, rather than just focus on the distance or number of steps.

Moderate intensity physical activity means getting the heart rate up and breathing faster. Just 10 minutes of brisk walking a day is an easy way for adults to introduce more moderate intensity physical activity into their day and reduce their risk of early death by up to 15%. To help adults do this, PHE’s ‘Active 10’ app has been created and it is the only app of its kind that combines intensity and time, rather than just distance

A new survey by PHE looking at people’s perceptions of physical activity found that:

  • many adults struggle to fit in exercise. Not having enough time (31%) was the main reason cited, followed by not feeling motivated (27%) and being too tired (25%)
  • half of these adults (50%) think more than 240 minutes of exercise per week is required to see general health benefits, nearly double the recommended guidance of at least 150 minutes – and 1 in 7 (15%) think that more than 420 minutes per week is required (an hour per day)
  • nearly nine in 10 (87%) say they walk more than 10 minutes per day, however, this drops to just over half (54%) who say they walk briskly for this amount of time

The current physical inactivity crisis also has a societal impact. In adults, physical inactivity contributes to 1 in 6 deaths in the UK and costs the NHS over £0.5 billion per year (Source: Public Health England).

Further details about the new app from Public Health England is available here 


Changes to diet and exercise could avoid 26,000 cases of cancer a year in women

Around 500 cases of cancer in women every week in the UK could be prevented by keeping a healthy weight and increasing exercise | British Journal of Cancer | story via Cancer Research UK


The latest figures, calculated from 2015 cancer data, found that whilst smoking remains the biggest preventable cause of cancer, everyday changes to live a little more healthily can have a large impact.

By keeping a healthy weight, drinking less alcohol, eating more fibre, cutting down on processed meat and being more active, more than 26,000 cancer cases in women could be avoided each year.

This equates to 15% of all cancers diagnosed in women each year in the UK. More than 24,000 cases of cancer in men could also be avoided with the same approach.

Full story at Cancer Research UK

Full reference: Brown, K. et al. | The fraction of cancer attributable to known risk factors in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the UK overall in 2015 | British Journal of Cancer 2018 | Vol. 118 p1130–1141

Use of screens during leisure time linked to adverse health outcomes

A new study from the University of Glasgow has found a strong association between discretionary screen time, that is electing to spend leisure time on screens,  and adverse health outcomes, such as mortality and cardiovascular disease.  This is particularly true of  those with low fitness, low muscle strength or physical activity levels (via University of Glasgow).


The researchers analysed the behaviour of almost 400,000 people and discovered that the association between a high level of discretionary screen time and unfavourable health outcomes, was almost twice as strong in those with low fitness levels or low grip strength.  More screen time was associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality, as well as a higher risk of both heart disease and cancer.

Individuals who viewed screens for five or more hours each day (the highest screen category) had a higher prevalence of current smoking, obesity and comorbidities, including diabetes and hypertension as well as higher prevalence of being on medication for hypertension and higher cholesterol, when compared individuals who used screens during leisure time for fewer than two hours a day (the lowest screen-time group). They also had a higher BMI, waist circumference and percentage body fat,  consumed more processed meat and less fruit and vegetables, as well as lower levels of physical activity, fitness and grip strength in comparison to those in the lowest screen-time group.  While the researchers observed  similar patterns when participants were stratified by TV-viewing categories, this was not the case for PC screen-time categories.

Source: Celis-MoralesC. A., et al. (2018)

University of Glasgow Too much screen time associated with heart disease and cancer


The paper has been published in the BMC



Discretionary screen time (time spent viewing a television or computer screen during leisure time) is an important contributor to total sedentary behaviour, which is associated with increased risk of mortality and cardiovascular disease (CVD). The aim of this study was to determine whether the associations of screen time with cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality were modified by levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, grip strength or physical activity.


In total, 390,089 participants (54% women) from the UK Biobank were included in this study. All-cause mortality, CVD and cancer incidence and mortality were the main outcomes. Discretionary television (TV) viewing, personal computer (PC) screen time and overall screen time (TV + PC time) were the exposure variables. Grip strength, fitness and physical activity were treated as potential effect modifiers.


Altogether, 7420 participants died, and there were 22,210 CVD events, over a median of 5.0 years follow-up (interquartile range 4.3 to 5.7; after exclusion of the first 2 years from baseline in the landmark analysis). All discretionary screen-time exposures were significantly associated with all health outcomes. The associations of overall discretionary screen time with all-cause mortality and incidence of CVD and cancer were strongest amongst participants in the lowest tertile for grip strength and weakest amongst those in the highest grip-strength tertile (all-cause mortality 1.04, p = 0.198; CVD 1.05, p = 0.070; cancer 0.98, p = 0.771). Similar trends were found for fitness (lowest fitness tertile: all-cause mortality 1.23, p = 0.002 and CVD 1.10, p = 0.010; highest fitness tertile: all-cause mortality 1.12, p = 0.570). Similar findings were found for physical activity for all-cause mortality and cancer incidence.


The associations between discretionary screen time and adverse health outcomes were strongest in those with low grip strength, fitness and physical activity and markedly attenuated in those with the highest levels of grip strength, fitness and physical activity. Thus, if these associations are causal, the greatest benefits from health promotion interventions to reduce discretionary screen time may be seen in those with low levels of strength, fitness and physical activity.

Full reference:

Celis-MoralesC. A., et al|2018| Associations of discretionary screen time with mortality, cardiovascular disease and cancer are attenuated by strength, fitness and physical activity: findings from the UK Biobank study |BMC Medicine |

The article is available to download from BMC Medicine

In the media:

BBC High levels of screen time linked to cancer and heart disease

‘Exergaming’ may help those at risk of Alzheimer’s or related dementias

Older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) showed significant improvement with certain complex thinking and memory skills after exergaming (video games that also require physical exercise) | Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience | via ScienceDaily


The results of a new study could encourage health care providers to pursue or prescribe exergames (video games that also require physical exercise) in hopes of slowing the debilitating effects of those with MCI, sometimes a stage between normal brain aging and dementia.

Previously published research had found that seniors who exercise using the features of interactive video games experienced greater cognitive health benefits than those who rely on traditional exercise alone.

For the latest study, researchers wanted to target older adults diagnosed with or at risk for MCI.  Researchers initially enrolled more than 100 seniors for the study. Over six months, 14 (evenly split between men and women) persisted with regular exergaming. The average age was 78.

The first group of seven was assigned to pedal along a scenic virtual reality bike path several times a week. The second group was given a more challenging task for the brain: pedal while playing a video game that included chasing dragons and collecting coins.

The results were compared against data collected from a separate group of eight seniors who played video games on a laptop but did not pedal, and also a group from the previous research who only rode a traditional stationary bike with no gaming component.

At the end of the randomized clinical trial, participants in both the group that pedaled along a virtual bike path and those that chased dragons and collected coins experienced significantly better executive function, which controls, in part, multi-tasking and decision making.

Benefits for both groups were also seen for verbal memory and physical function, suggesting it may be worth the effort for seniors to incorporate exergaming into a daily exercise regime.

The authors acknowledged that further research with a larger sample size is needed to confirm the team’s findings.  In the meantime, the research suggests benefits of exercising while also stimulating the brain with some mental challenge, such as navigating a scenic bike path or interactively playing a video game.

Full story at ScienceDaily

Full reference: Anderson-Hanley, C . et al. The Aerobic and Cognitive Exercise Study (ACES) for Community-Dwelling Older Adults With or At-Risk for Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI): Neuropsychological, Neurobiological and Neuroimaging Outcomes of a Randomized Clinical TrialFrontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 2018; 10


Running helps brain stave off effects of chronic stress

Study finds that exercise protects vital memory and learning functions | Neurobiology of Learning and Memory | via ScienceDaily


Whilst it is widely acknowledged that getting a little exercise helps when dealing with stress, a new study discovers exercise — particularly running — while under stress also helps protect your memory.

The study, published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, finds that running mitigates the negative impacts chronic stress has on the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

Lead author Jeff Edwards, states “Exercise is a simple and cost-effective way to eliminate the negative impacts on memory of chronic stress.”

Further detail at ScienceDaily

Full reference: Running exercise mitigates the negative consequences of chronic stress on dorsal hippocampal long-term potentiation in male mice.  | Neurobiology of Learning and Memory |  2018

Aerobic exercise moderately reduces depressive symptoms in new mothers

Doing aerobic exercise can reduce the level of depressive symptoms experienced by women who have had a baby in the past year | British Journal of General Practice |via National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)


This review of 13 studies showed that involving new mothers in group exercise programmes, or advising them on an exercise of their choice, reduced depressive symptoms compared with usual care. The effect was moderate but significant. Examples of exercise were pram walks, with dietary advice from peers in some studies. The benefits were shown whether or not the mothers had postnatal depression.

The NIHR reports that the evidence does have some limitations regarding its quality but is the best research currently available. This review should give additional confidence to health visitors and GPs to advise women that keeping active after birth can benefit their mental and physical health.

Further detail at NIHR

Full reference: Pritchett R V, Daley A J, Jolly K. Does aerobic exercise reduce postpartum depressive symptoms? A systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of General Practice. 2017;67(663)

Healthy people, healthy planet

Healthy people, healthy planet: The role of health systems in promoting healthier lifestyles and a greener future | Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development 

This report was produced to inform the 2017 meeting of the G7 ministers of health. It provides a broad overview of the main policy actions that G7 countries can take to improve population health and to decrease the human footprint on the environment.

Image source:

The report makes the following policy recommendations:

  • Support the development and implementation of nutritional guidelines promoting healthier food consumption – as this can lead to less stress on the environmental resources used in food production – as well as reduce the environmental footprint in hospitals and in nursing homes by encouraging healthier food consumption, waste reduction and cleaner energy generation;
  • Create partnerships with various national and local stakeholders, including local city authorities and ministries of industry, environment, transport, and agriculture, in order to incorporate health and environmental considerations into urban planning schemes;
  • Implement public health actions encouraging more physical activity and greater reliance on active modes of transportation, such as through physical activity-promoting mass media campaigns, bike sharing schemes and creating low-emission zones.

Full report: Healthy people, healthy planet