Staying Active by Thinking Green

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There are over 400 national parks in the United States that help preserve historic buildings and landscapes while creating recreation activities close to home. Volunteering at a national park can be rewarding both mentally and physically. Volunteers help maintain over 1,000 trails and historic landmarks including places like Pearl Harbor and the Martin Luther King Birthplace.

The June issue of AICR’s eNews shows volunteering at a park is a great way to get involved with your local history and to add physical activity to your schedule. AICR recommends 30 minutes of moderate daily activity to prevent cancer and it’s important to find an activity that you enjoy so you’ll stick with it.

There are other ways to volunteer outside if helping out at a national park isn’t for you. The recent oil spill in the Gulf coast region has produced a need for volunteers to help clean up the affected area and report the environmental impacts caused by the spill. National parks have been affected by this as well as other organizations helping to clean up the Gulf Bay. Some of these organizations you can volunteer at are the National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. Their websites will contain more information on how to help.

Cancer Patients and Survivors: Just Move!

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Yesterday, Mya posted about research exploring how physical activity plays a role in helping cancer survivors feel better.

Based on that growing body of research, the American College of Sports Medicine released the first ever guidelines for physical activity and cancer survivors yesterday at their annual meeting in Baltimore.  AICR is exhibiting at the conference, so I was able to catch the presentation on this topic.

The Number One Recommendation:  Cancer patients and survivors should engage in physical activity.   Basically, as much as possible follow the 2008 federal Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:  at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity and 2 times per week resistance training.

The risk of not being active greatly outweighs risk that might occur from engaging in activity according to the panel that developed the guidelines.  The research showed improved quality of life, fitness, flexibility and greater physical functioning in patients and survivors who engaged in physical activity.

For trainers and  fitness professionals there are specific recommendations regarding doing individual assessments and tailoring programs for specific diagnoses.

But the strong message was to find a way to be active.

Read more about the guidelines here.

Check out AICR’s information on exercise for cancer survivors with tips on getting started and keeping it going.

Obesity and Inactivity: The Evolutionary Perspective

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AICR’s expert report concluded that carrying excess body fat is a convincing cause of six different cancers (colorectal, postmenopausal breast, esophageal, endometrial, kidney and pancreatic) and a probable cause of gallbladder cancer as well.  That means that in the US alone, obesity is responsible for over 100,000 cancer cases every year.

And as obesity figures continue to rise, that number is likely to grow even larger.

How did we get here?

Last week, at the 3rd International Congress on Physical Activity and Public Health, many researchers presented data tracking recent trends in the amount of leisure-time physical activity we’re getting, nowadays. But one of the keynote speakers, Dr. William Leonard of Northwestern University, presented an intriguing talk that took the long view.

The very long view.

Like, hundreds of thousands of years long.

Dr. Leonard is an  anthropologist, you see.  He talked about how humans evolved, specifically how how changes in our diet and activity level changed our body type.

Basically, said Dr. Leonard, as our brains got bigger, they placed larger demands on our metabolism, and our diets became more nutrient- and calorie-dense to support them.

Leonard proposed that the recent and much-talked about uptick in the calorie-density of our foods over the past few decades (higher fat content, larger portion sizes) is simply an extension of what’s been happening to us, on an evolutionary scale, for millions of years.  But the difference is key: dietary changes that used to to take thousands and thousands of years to occur have happened within a single lifetime.

Even so, he suggested that we might be missing the real story by focusing so much on the increase in calories in our diets.  In fact, he notes, while calorie content of the diet in the developed world has increased since the fifties, that increase leveled off in the 80s.  Yet obesity rates continued, and continue, to rise.

To explain this, he suggests that it’s decreased calorie expenditure that plays a larger role in obesity than caloric intake.

Throughout our evolution, our caloric intake increased to match greater and greater needs we placed upon our bodies – hunting calorie-dense animals is more demanding than gathering low-calorie-dense crops. But this eon-old trend toward increased calorie-burning is now experiencing a dramatic reversal: Our jobs have become much more sedentary since the 80s and the advent of the computer.

Our bodies have evolved over millions of years to actively and effectively meet our caloric needs from the environment. But now we’re suddenly accelerating the trend toward more calories – and by changing the physical environment to make things easier, we’re reversing the evolutionary trend toward burning more calories.

The net effect: we’re upsetting an equilibrium our species has managed to maintain for thousands and thousands of years.