Welcome Dr. Pamela Arsenault

The Human Performance and Health Research Laboratory is thrilled to welcome Pamela Arsenault to our laboratory as a post-doctoral researcher. This summer Dr. Arsenault will be leading two projects examining the cardiovascular and metabolic effects of capsaicinoid ingestion on human physiological function at rest and during acute exercise performance. More details on the studies to follow.  Welcome Pam!

 

Downhill running and human arteries

born-to-runIn our quest to better understand the cardiovascular effects of long distance running, we have come to understand that certain types of prolonged running result in a stiffening of the arteries (original research here).  This was a surprising finding for us, because it is generally well accepted that participation in aerobic exercise leads to more compliant arteries, which in turn reduces the work required of the heart to pump blood.  However, while examining this effect using varying exposures of exercise and varied terrain, a pattern developed suggesting that only certain races (long ones with large elevation changes) led to a pronounced effect. We hypothesized that perhaps the added distance, intensity and (in particular) downhill segments of a course added to the stress on the body wherein the muscles are required to produce a force while lengthening. We call this an “eccentric” muscle contraction, and we know that eccentric muscle contractions are associated with increased muscle damage and soreness.

To test this theory we designed a new study, published last week in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (link), to determine what happened when participants ran a relatively short distance (40 min) at a moderate pace (60% of max), but the entire run was downhill. What we found was that arterial stiffness increased following the run, and that the stiffness didn’t peak until 48hr afterwards. Interestingly, this coincided with the Style: "Neutral"participant’s peak muscle soreness (which they reported considering their discomfort in daily life and how much pressure we could apply to the muscle before it became painful). This leads us to believe that these changes may be related, and this could suggest that the effect is driven by underlying inflammation caused by the muscular damage.

Now what?  Like many new discoveries, this may have led to more questions than answers. Next, we want to understand if the inflammatory effects are local or systemic (whole body), which we can test by measuring changes in muscle swelling and certain markers in the blood. We also want to understand if this effect happens similarly to everyone, or are there ways that we can lessen the effect? For instance, are people who are more fit less susceptible to the effects because the downhill running is less stressful for their muscles? We know that muscle soreness decreases with training and repeated exposure, so this seems like a reasonable idea. We also wonder if there are other things we can do to reduce the delayed effect, like taking anti-inflammatory drugs. Lastly, we don’t yet fully understand what the arterial stiffening means in terms of overall health and wellness. Consistently stiff arteries at rest are known to increase cardiovascular risk, but we don’t yet know what the transient changes following exercise might mean for risk in the short or long term. Stay tuned.

To be clear, for now- we are not saying that exercise is bad for you. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence that exercise is good for your cardiovascular system. However, we are starting to see evidence that certain types of over-reaching exercise (i.e. the type of exercise that does not happen without serious planned effort) may start to border on “too much of a good thing.”

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Let your inner nerd watch the Olympic games too.

1391878995000-USP-Olympics-Cross-Country-Skiing-Ladies-SkiathloIf you are anything like me, you simply cant get enough of the Olympic Winter Games. I could sit on my couch the entire 16 days straight -although the irony of being so sedentary to watch sport isn’t lost on me.

So what is it about the games that is so intriguing and awe inspiring? Yes, part of the allure is the competition itself – watching the best in the world go head to head, the elite talent, the raw emotion, and the pressure of competing with so much on line. But for me, and my inner exercise physiology nerd, its also what the Olympic sports offer that you just don’t find in traditional North American sports – the display/test of the raw attributes of fitness at the highest level. In fact, I can think of no better examples of the different types of strength, endurance, and power than we are currently seeing on display.

Take, for example, the bobsled. Sure, we all think of it like NASCAR on ice, but really bobsled represents one of the most pure examples of an all out speed/power sport (CP-ATP energy system). How so? Along with the start order and ice temperature (which are beyond athlete’s directbob control) the bobsled push has been shown to account for 50% of the variance in performance. That’s right, the first 50m of pushing the sled (lasts <5sec) is amongst the biggest determinants of success. And the athletes don’t just need to be fast, they need to be strong as the sleds weight 400-500lb.

On the other end of the spectrum in the Nordic skiing sports we see pure “aerobic animals” (see Kreb’s Cycle / aerobic metabolism). Cross-country skiers have the highest VO2max scores ever recorded, and although technique/tactic is surely important, many races really come down to “who can push themselves harder for longer.” Add to that the fact that you need to propel yourself using both your upper and lower body and even compared to other long distance sports, the demands go up. During the biathlon, participants not only have to ski, but also periodically stop and shoot small targets from a distance. Being in good shape certainly helps with the skiing and also with recovery whimageen it comes time to shoot; but biathletes also use carefully timed breathing to stabilize their shots by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system and slowing their heart rate. Yeah, that’s a cool application of physiology knowledge.

And somewhere in between, we find the sports like speed skating, alpine skiing and freestyle skiing and snowboarding. These are the sports that require athletes to work at the highest possible intensity they can until their muscles are screaming at them to stop as the bi-products of anaerobic metabolism accumulate (Glycolytic pathways). Often times, these sports not only require high intensity repeated output, but also the maintenance of good form to avoid losing efficiency, style, or control -which could lead to a high consequence crash.

If you watch carefully, the Olympics will bring your textbooks to life. On the simplest level, the Olympics show that the competition is all about who can understand (and best manipulate) the science of what’s happening in the experiment that is the athlete’s body.

Ultra-marathon and arterial stiffness

trail-runnerLast week we published a paper (International Journal of Sports Medicine -link here) looking at what happens to the arteries of men who run long distances. As a quick background, it is generally well accepted that participation in most physical activities, including running, leads to more compliant (less stiff) arteries  – and this is a good thing. When the arteries are more compliant, the heart doesn’t have to work as hard, and studies have shown that stiffer arteries are associated with earlier disease and death.

However, based on some previous work my group had completed looking at participants who ran 100-200km through the Rocky Mountains, we had noticed that arterial compliance didn’t get any better, in fact, it got worse. So, we were interested in understanding what it is that makes some types of running lead to improvements and other types lead to decrements in arterial stiffness. For this particular investigation, we wanted to understand when these changes in arterial stiffness would occur and how long they lasted. One of the challenges of studying this type human response is that 1) not everyone is capable of running extremely long distances and 2) those who are, don’t really want to stop running in the middle of a race so a bunch of researchers can poke and prod them while their competition catches up or pulls away.  To add to that, bringing sensitive lab equipment in to the remote areas where these athletes are running is a logistical nightmare.

So, we decided to make our own race that circled around campus and passed by the laboratory each lap. Each runner would do 5 laps of a 15km course and after three laps (very close to marathon distance) there would be a mandatory break at thstylin 022e lab for measures. Then participants would run another 30 km and return to the lab after which time we would see what effect the additional mileage had on arteries and monitor them into recovery. We set up the ultra-marathon as a real race (with sponsors, race bibs, aid tables and prizes), which was more effective at promoting a real race mentality in the runners than even we had expected.

What did we find: this investigation seemed to suggest that the distance run is one of the factors that determines how the arteries will respond- as we initially saw arterial stiffness decrease, followed by an increase back toward non-exercise levels. Given previous research that has demonstrated that extreme or prolonged high intensity causes a temporary arterial stiffening, it seems likely that an interplay with intensity was involved as well. Perhaps, at longer distances/higher intensity the body starts be be overwhelmed by the stresses of exercise- a theory that has now led our group to examine the effects of exercise induced stress & inflammation. In particular, certain types of running and longer distances tend to induce greater amounts of cumulative muscle damage; and this, in turn, might be responsible for the stiffening we have previously reported following a really long challenging race- as well as a general stiffening in people who race these hard/long distances on a regular basis!

So, does this mean exercise is bad for you? In short, NO.  You do not need to stop exercising (or use this as an excuse to avoid starting a program if you don’t exercise now). The type of exercise used in these studies far exceeds that which a normal person could or would participate in without concerted effort to push his or her limits. At present, we also do not fully understand what the increase in arterial compliance after this type of exercise means for health or performance over the long run, or how these changes may interact with many of the known beneficial changes that are happening at the same time. It does, however, raise a lot of interesting questions….and we are excitedly following up on them! Stay tuned.

The Kids Aren’t Alright

This week there was an interesting editorial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which caused quite a stir (read article here). In short, the authors suggested that given our current understanding of the multitude of wide-reaching positive outcomes associated with physical activity participation, our failure as parents/society to provide adequate physical activity exposure ought to be considered child neglect. Although the reasons for today’s children and youth’s unprecedented levels of inactivity are surely multifactorial, I think that this “neglect” is (ironically) partially attributable to the fact that parents today are trying so hard to protect their children. How so, you ask?

Many of us from past generations can surely relate to spending our weekends and nights after school outside playing in the neighborhood, instructed to “come home when the lights come on”. Oddly, today this type of parenting would be looked upon by many to be “negligent” and one needs only to put on the nightly news to find a scary story to suppoCaution Children Not at playrt the belief that crime has increased and our streets aren’t as safe as they use to be (although there is evidence to suggest it is merely our media exposure to violent crime that has changed not the level of crime itself). In any event, it is clear that physical activity and the perception of danger in a neighbourhood are inversely related. So instead, kids sit “safely” in front of their television, or other screen of their choice.
Instead of risking potential physical harm, we begin to slowly ensure physiological harm through hypokinetic related chronic disease. And even when kids today DO get out to play- rules are strict, warnings abound, and parental/adult supervision is ubiquitous. In fact, as the first snow fell here in my province I heard a report that the local elementary school children were forbidden from from picking up snow for any reason. Seriously?

Kids need to take risks. They need to be challenged. They need to risk failure, and maybe even injury. Our goal as parents/guardians is to ensure these risks are moderated and appropriate to the age and maturity of our children. All of these factors are an important part of physical activity/sport/exercise on some level, and also part of learning how to avoid and control risks in life. This week, we published an article in Canadian Family Physician (which can be accessed here) exploring the idea that risk taking is important even for adults. We explore the far end of the risk taking spectrum (extreme sports) and question if there may be real value in these types of activities that are commonly overlooked as foolhardy sports for adrenaline junkies with a death-wish.

Perhaps, letting our kids fall off their bikes, scrape their knees, get hit in the face with a snowball, or in the shins with a road-hockey ball is not neglect; but preventing our kids from having the opportunity to experience these things and to reap the benefits from the associated physical activity might be. We need to work with our communities to make our neighbourhoods as safe as possible. We need to help bring back unsupervised play, and the ability for our children to walk/ride to school like they used to (safety in numbers). Most of all though, we need to recognize what the real risks are, and protect our children from our own errant beliefs, our unjustified misconceptions, and our own over-protection.

 

Cycling- what can we learn from the dutch?

I am a proud and strong supporter of cycling. Those who know me are aware that I cycle to the office on a daily basis, and encourage others to do the same for the benefits to mental and physical health (not to mention the environment or money).

My time spent in Vancouver showed me firsthand that the more cyclists there are in a city, the safer and more enjoyable it is. It would seem that drivers not only get used to sharing the road with cyclists (and thus do less unpredictable or seemingly foolish things around them), but also that most car commuters ARE ALSO cyclists and can sympathize with the other perspective. Despite the bike-friendliness of Vancouver, North American’s clearly have a long way to go to catch up to Europe where cycling is a way of life.

So what do European’s think about the state of cycling across the pond?  This video offers some interesting perspective on the way we do it (or don’t do it) and offers some useful suggestions for improvement.

Ride your bike!

“Life’s More fun when you Move”

Another video well worth watching.

What’s your motivation to move?

“We all try to be busy instead of being alive, busy instead of getting out and breathing, busy sending useless texts instead of walking in the woods with our kids or introducing them to life’s joys. We move information instead of simply moving”

“Every time I slip out of the house…to bike, hike, run or just walk for an hour, it’s a win”

-Will Gadd

How to Study

Welcome back students!  After a long summer, it’s finally time to get back to the books.

helpful-tipsAlthough midterms aren’t for a few weeks yet, its never to early to start thinking about good study habits for the coming year. Here are some good tips (which I too recommend) from Daniel Coyle, Author of “The Talent Code”.

STUDY TIPS

 

Bring back play

I am a big fan of this new ad that Canadian Tire has released as part of the bring back play initiative. We can all do something in our own communities to bring back play for children and adults alike.

 

Accept that you’re stupid so you can start acting smart

Ever sat in a lecture, laboratory, or meeting and felt like the person talking knows absolutely everything about a topic?  It can be daunting to think “I will NEVER be as knowledgeable, succesful, or creative as this person”.  stupid

But if YOU don’t know all the answers that’s ok, no one expects you to. After all, you’re stupid. You just have to accept it first before you can start moving on in your scientific career.   But don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that you are an idiot, just that maybe you don’t know the right answers (or even the right questions)…and maybe neither do I.

I recently came across this great article, which I had read a number of years ago, and then completely forgot about. After re-reading it, I immediately thought to share it with graduate students, but upon further reflection I realized that the ideas in THIS ESSAY by Martin Schwartz (published in the Journal of Cell Science, 2008)  apply to just about everyone. The main point of the article is that its OK if you don’t know all the answers – and even though you might feel like everyone else does…. they don’t.  Perhaps knowing and recognizing this as a student helps in getting over the hump of problem solving (or “paralysis by analysis”).  As Dr. Schwartz says “The crucial lesson was that the scope of things I didn’t know wasn’t merely vast; it was, for all practical purposes, infinite. That realization, instead of being discouraging, was liberating. If our ignorance is infinite, the only possible course of action is to muddle through as best we can.

After all, we as humans are stupid…or at least rather ignorant about the way many things around us work. Even times when we think we have something figured out, we’ve been looking at the question (and thus the answer) all wrong.  By accepting that we don’t know all the answers, we can get past worrying about this fact and seek out the information we need. I hope you enjoy the article as much as I did, and good luck trying to sort your way through life’s challenges, dummy.

Less is More

“I just don’t have time to exercise”.

Have you ever heard that before? Maybe said it yourself? Lack of time is the most commonly cited barrier to physical activity. This perception that we don’t have enough time to fit-in meaningful exercise may well explain society’s obsession with determining just how little exercise we can “get away with.”

Last month the New York Times ran an article titled “The 4-minute workout” which (like similar stories before it) was met with great enthusiasm, as it suggested that fitness could be maintained with the investment of very little time. In fact, the research on which they were reporting suggested no more than 4 min a session, three times a week was necessary.

How does this possibly work?  The most important caveat of this research is that this is not just any-old exercise, it is what we call high intensity interval training, or HIIT.  High intensity intervals are not a new concept, in fact, they have been used by elite athletes for quite some time and it is well known that the added intensity is quite effective in boosting fitness gains. What is more novel is the idea of swapping time for intensity, that is exercising very hard for a short amount of time without sacrificing efficacy. Many people who are initially excited by the prospect of exercising only 4-6 minutes a day perhaps miss the point that this exercise is performed near maximal (often about 90%), either for one continuous bout (4 min) or for multiple shorter bouts, interspersed with lighter exercise between. Despite the higher intensity of this type of exercise, current evidence suggests that it is still quite safe (see the CACR webinar I presented on HIIT in cardiac rehab here), but there is no denying that the risk goes up slightly and extra effort and motivation to push oneself is required.

Seems to good to be true doesn’t it? There must be a catch.  Not necessarily, but there are still a number of things that we do not yet understand, and some important limitations.  Firstly, it needs to be noted that the research showing improvements in fitness with only 4 min a session was done using inactive participants (who we would expect to change the most from adopting ANY exercise), and comparisons were made to other forms of interval training to determine that increases in fitness were “not different”. Although other previous research has shown comparable (and even magnified) alterations in fitness using HIIT vs traditional longer and slower exercise, we need to recognize that the generalizability of these findings to the broad population are still unclear. Furthermore, the efficacy of this style of training for people with better baseline fitness may differ. We also don’t understand the longer term effects of adopting a condensed HIIT program vs doing more traditional exercise. For example, do the findings of a relatively short research intervention actually just show us who would win a 12 week “race to fitness?” That is, does HIIT simply speed up the adaption process that “regular” training would have eventually caused if given a little more time? If it does, there is still potential value in this, but we don’t yet know or understand what will happen in the longer term, or if these changes will plateau. Drawing from elite athlete experience and HIIT, it is also plausible that burnout and injury could become an issue, but this may also be avoided based on the low volume of exercise exposure.

In short, any exercise is probably better than none, and if you are going to only invest a short amount of time (or can only find a short amount of time), you might as well bump up the intensity to get a better “bang for your buck”. It is important to understand that fitness and fatness are not necessarily the same thing- and this type of training may help you to control fitness, but not fatness. The calorie burning of this type of workout may actually be well below that of a lower intensity exercise session that can be sustained for a longer period of time. Rather than looking at the “least possible” angle, a better interpretation may be that even little bits of high intensity added to your regular program will likely add further benefits. So, why not run up the stairs when no one is looking, chase your kids and dogs around the yard at full speed, and don’t be afraid to work up a real sweat during your workout? After all, its only a few minutes.

Running Downhill Fast

Ever noticed that climbing a mountain (or stairs) is hard, but that coming back down is actually harder? On top of that, it’s the descent that makes your legs sore the next day, or the day after that. Why is this?  When coming back down, your leg muscles have to control the weight of your body while the muscle is getting longer, rather than shorter. We call this type of a muscle action an “eccentric” contraction. Interestingly, we can produce great forces using eccentric contractions, but delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is increased.

Research shows that eccentric squat-type muscle contractions performed on an exercise machine leads to soreness, and also to inflammation. In turn, this inflammation may have some effects on the cardiovascular system. Even though these types of heavy weight eccentric contractions rarely happen outside of the weight room, they may be applied to the human body while running. Our lab is currently exploring what happens when someone runs downhill- although we’re using a downhill treadmill for safety. We want to know: does the expected inflammation and muscle soreness lead to changes in the cardiovascular system?  If so, what does this mean?  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, if you want to get involved (we are looking for runners, non-runners, fit and not fit) please contact us!

 

Can’t gain those last 30 pounds? Get fat, really fat, with just 3 simple steps…..

That’s right, I have the secret that personal trainers, dieticians and doctors everywhere don’t want you to know. With just three simple steps (and 4 easy payments), I can tell you everything you need to know to gain massive amounts of fat in just Obesity-waist_circumference1 week. Not only will you pack on the pounds, your fitness will almost immediately plummet to levels you’ve never before experienced. Activities of daily life will be challenging in less than one week!

Sound ridiculous?  Sure it does. Not just because you likely don’t want to gain a great deal of fat and lose fitness, but also because you intuitively know that this just isn’t likely to happen. Let’s be honest, we’ve all over indulged during vacation, and although doing so likely didn’t have beneficial effects on your waistline,  the wheels probably didn’t fall off so quickly that you needed to come home with an entirely larger wardrobe.

So why is it then, that people are so apt to believe the opposite could be true? If it takes us weeks, months or years to put weight on (and lose significant fitness), why would anyone believe the ad campaigns that suggest we should be able to take it off in such a short amount of time? Common sense suggests that getting back into shape is going to take time (and some effort) to make meaningful and sustainable changes.

So plan ahead, set your goals and work away at them slowly. Then, think about what small changes you can make in your everyday life to sustain those changes.  And, when you’ve done that, join me in snickering at the silly commercials for “safe and effective” overnight weight loss…because really, who are they kidding?

 

 

Why do you need to exercise?

As summer is just around the corner, bathing suit season is almost upon us. Time to hit the gym. After all, there is nothing in this world that is worse than unwanted flab….right?

But maybe looking good on the outside isn’t a highly motivating factor for you. Despite the messages we get from the media and others around us, perhaps being skinny isn’t the most important thing, on which we should be judging our self-worth. In fact, current scientific health-evidence suggests that being skinny is less important than being fit.

So why exercise?

On a personal level, there are many benefits to living a healthy active life. For students, as exam time is upon us making time for exercise can aid with focus, sleep quality and managing stress. Exercise can also be a very social activity. Outside of school, exercise has many benefits (over the long term) for keeping us productive, functionally independent and disease-free.

On a population level, there are many benefits to society if we can curb “couch-potatoism”. In this excellent short presentation Karim Khan (editor of British Journal of Sports Medicine) examines how and why to get people active. You can click here  to view it in Prezi. As an organizing member of the conference wherein the Toronto Charter was formed, I am particularly supportive of this initiative.

Capture

So, as the snow melts find your reason to get you, and those around you, moving toward and active healthy life.

 

Thinking of a Marathon?

Today, marathon running is more popular than any other time in history. What used to be a race reserved for the hardened elite is now on the “bucket list” of many recreational athletes. As a physiologist who studies health (and the negative health consequences of inactivity) my first response is “that’s great, people are moving!” However, we are also in an era of unprecedented sedentary living, as regular physical activity has been cut or reduced from many parts of everyday life including at work, at home and during recreation. Taking on too big a challenge before we are physiologically (and mentally) ready  can overwhelm the body, particularly when underlying health conditions exist. So, should you attempt that next big race or physical activity challenge? You bet, but make sure you’re appropriately training for the race-day physical demands, not trying to compete right off the couch.

Below is a fantastic infographic discussing some of the differing physiological effects of marathon running on the trained vs the untrained participant. Some food for thought.

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Effects of sitting all day

It is becoming abundantly clear that sitting (not just lack of exercise) has negative health consequences. This is problematic as many of our daily lives require long periods of sitting, whether it be as a student in a lecture hall, or as a professional behind a computer. Perhaps most frightening is the fact that long periods of sitting has negative effects even for those of us who meet the recommended daily physical activity guidelines. So, what can we do about it?  Find a reason to get up and move around. Take standing breaks (every 30 minutes or so if possible). Find excuses to exercise every chance you get- take the stairs, go talk to someone in person instead of emailing, or start doing walk and talk meetings (my favorite).  Since we were children most of us were taught to sit quietly and not move around. It’s OK to move now.

In time, I hope that we will see changes to the social norms that promote/require excess amounts of sitting. For instance, what if classrooms and boardrooms became active places where no one sat down to learn or talk? At present it sounds odd, maybe even impossible, but at one time the idea of mandatory seat belt use and smoking bans did too.

Want more information? Check out this infographic from medicalbillingandcoding.org and visit http://www.sedentarybehaviourclassification.net/

sitting is killing you

Motivation

As we talk about in my first year Kinesiology class, physical activity, sport and exercise don’t happen in a vacuum. All of our decisions to participate, or to not participate (and to work hard, or to slack off) are influenced by others components of our overall being. These include psycho-social factors such as our thoughts and feelings,  past experiences, perceived incentives, and our social contexts. Sometimes, through our actions we motivate others. Sometimes, we could use a little motivation ourselves.

Need a motivating pep talk to get moving or keep moving? Click the picture below.

Kid president pep talk

Other good motivating ideas for exercise: get a workout partner to hold you accountable, keep a record of your goals and progress (i.e. time, weight, distance), or use one of the countless smartphone apps now available.

 

 

Happy New Year

Welcome to 2013! With the arrival of the new year comes thoughts of renewal, fresh starts and maybe even change.  Perhaps this year you plan to make more healthy choices: a new exercise plan, alterations to your diet, or adding active commuting / active living to your regular schedule.  Are New Years resolutions a good idea? Dr. Mike Evans (of 23.5hrs fame) brings this insightful look at the science of New Years Resolutions.

So go on. Dream about what the new you could be…its the first step to getting there. Whether you are an elite athlete, an average joe, or someone working through an existing chronic condition, we can all find ways through which physical activity and lifestyle changes can improve our life and help us accomplish our goals.

To watch the video, click the picture above or click here

Writing a good research paper

Designing, implementing and reporting scientific research is a huge part of graduate school.  Although simple in theory, effectively seeing this process through is difficult in practice. You can design the most eloquent study in the world, but if you struggle to effectively describe it to others, it will have little impact. Similarly, if you’re a fantastic writer but your research methodology is poor, publishing your work and convincing others to agree with your conclusions will be difficult. So how do you write a good research paper?  This article, from the Journal of Physiology, offers some great tips for new graduate students and seasoned investigators alike.Click on the picture (or here) to read the article online.

 

 

Marketing Health….a food industry perspective

It’s no secret that the obesity/diabetes epidemic is driven not just by the amount of activity (or lack thereof) in the average Canadian’s life, but also by what we eat.  Strong arguments can be made for the fact that caloric consumption has changed toward a greater proportion of high energy (and low nutrient) foods at the same time that sedentary behavior has been increasing. Why is this happening, and what can we do about it?

In a compelling talk, which was coincidentally cancelled last minute by food industry reps, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff of the University of Ottawa, examines the influences in today’s culture. Are you being misled by today’s advertising?  Watch the video here.

 

Exergaming

The lure of screen time is a growing temptation in today’s society. With television-on-demand, content specific channels (e.g. cartoon network), traditional computer usage, live video streaming, Youtube, smartphones, tablets, social networking etc. all vying for our work and leisure time, sometimes it seems impossible to unplug and step away from it all. If you feel this way, you’re not alone…and be sure that there are people making healthy paycheques to make the consumption of these technologies even harder to avoid.

Perhaps it is this market driven emphasis on screen usage that makes the idea of “exergaming”, or combining exercise and video games, so appealing. After all, wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to choose between these seemingly opposed activities?

Research into this area gives us somewhat mixed results. In general, the physical demands of currently available “exergames” are moderate at best. Although moderate intensity physical demands could thus justify the classification some of these games as meeting current exercise guidelines, critics are quick to point out that there are multiple ways to reduce the demand (cheat), certain benefits are conspicuously missing in a virtual world, and that boredom likely sets in quickly. Proponents argue that the benefits of safety, breaking up sedentary time, and habilitation/rehabilitation should not be underestimated or overlooked.

Today, Active Healthy Kids released an official statement regarding exergaming, an activity which it DOES NOT support. Agree or disagree with this position, I think it is important for many parents to understand the issues at the centre of the debate  so that they can make their own decisions.  Check out the position here.