Most fitness instructors, coaches, and sports teachers suggest that people warm up and stretch before they exercise. But how effective is this?

In fact, past scientific studies have cast some doubt on the effectiveness of warming up, with little evidence it reduces sports-related injury and even some evidence that stretching can diminish peak performance in activities like sprinting.

But large-scale studies in this area run into a number of potential problems. There is little uniformity in how people warm up and stretch. Important factors such as body weight, fitness and activity level vary greatly from person to person; and the activities they then go on to do could be anything from swimming or football to martial arts or badminton.

In the past year, though, research in this subject has gained impetus and shown some tangible benefits in certain groups. One recent study* showed knee injuries can be reduced in young women footballers. Another** has shown that people who suffer asthma that is brought on by exercise can reduce their need for inhalers with the right type of warm-up. In the martial art taekwondo, warm-up has been shown to reduce the injury rate***.

This evidence is still rather limited, but it does suggest that the common view that warming up helps prevent injury may have some basis. Certainly, many people – including non-athletes – find that activity is more comfortable if they warm-up and stretch beforehand. And there is no evidence to suggest that it is harmful provided it’s done carefully and in line with reputable advice (ideally from a trained coach or fitness instructor).

But don’t depend on warming up and stretching to prevent all injury, of course. Pay attention to technique and safety – even when you are tired – and, as always, there’s a lot to be said for common sense!

*Link to knee injury study   (If you have trouble with this link, search for “Simple Warm-Up Program Prevents Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries”)

**Link to asthma study

***Link to taekwondo study

Professor Brian Kirby, Author of How to Live to 110: Your comprehensive guide to a healthy life

 

Dementia is one of the most greatly feared diseases of old age. Its personal and social consequences are formidable. So far, medicines have proved useful in some individuals once they have developed the condition, but none has been shown conclusively to prevent its onset.

Now, though, an American study* provides some indirect evidence that including omega-3 oils in your diet might help protect you against the disease.

Omega-3 oils are found especially in oily fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel, and to a lesser extent in other seafood, walnuts, flaxseed, canola oil and meat from grass-fed animals.

The study looked at a range of different nutrients in the diets of 1200 people aged 65 or more, and also at the amount of “amyloid-ß” in their blood. Levels of amyloid-ß are higher in some people who go on to develop dementia. The researchers argued that if its level could be lowered then those individuals would be at a lower risk of developing dementia.

This may seem a rather indirect approach, but dementia is hard to study directly. Much previous work has been based on self-reporting by the subjects; this is difficult in those without dementia and even more so in those who have the condition. Using a marker for dementia such as amyloid-ß therefore has advantages.

Out of all the nutrients the researchers looked at – which included vitamins and other types of oil – the only one associated with lower levels of amyloid-ß was omega-3 oil. The subjects who consumed the most omega-3 oil in their diet had significantly lower amounts of amyloid-ß. That suggests omega-3 oil may help prevent dementia. However, only long-term trials over many years will tell whether they are right.

This study on its own is not enough evidence to make a universal recommendation that everyone should consume omega-3 oil to prevent dementia.

But omega-3 oil is already recommended by health professionals as it is an essential nutrient needed by your body and it provides strong, proven protection against heart disease and a range of other serious conditions. If it protects you from dementia as well, that is an added bonus.

*Link to study abstract

 

Professor Brian Kirby, Author of How to Live to 110: Your comprehensive guide to a healthy life

 

 

Strawberries and blueberries are some of summer’s delights. Now it seems they may even be helping to keep your brain sharp.

At least, that seems to be the case for women aged over 70. In a study that involved 16,000 American women, those who ate a portion of strawberries twice a week or a portion of blueberries once a week showed a slower decline in their mental abilities than those who didn’t.

As people get older, our brains tend gradually to become less sharp, our memory doesn’t work quite so well, and it can take a little longer to solve problems or learn new things. This is technically known as ‘cognitive decline’, and it is not the same as dementia (such as Alzheimer’s disease), a specific disorder that only affects a small proportion of people.

What the study found was that cognitive decline was delayed by up to two and a half years in the women who regularly ate berries.

This is probably due to some specific substances that the berries contain in small amounts: anthocyanidins, which are a type of flavonoid. There is quite a lot of dietary evidence showing that flavonoids – which are found in a number of fruit and vegetables – have health benefits, and in laboratory experiments they have been shown to have positive effects on brain cells.

If you like strawberries, blueberries and, indeed, other types of berries, you now have a good reason to indulge yourself. Just don’t undo the good work with too much sugar and cream!

*Link to the study: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ana.23594/abstract

 

Professor Brian Kirby, author of How to Live to 110: Your comprehensive guide to a healthy life

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