Posts tagged ‘exercise’

Get out!

A recent analysis of 10 studies that involved more than 1,250 participants found that physical activity in the presence of nature—known as “green exercise”—has a tremendous influence on mental health. The positive effects on self-esteem and mood were magnified when people were actively engaged in a physical task (e.g., walking, gardening, cycling) near a body of water.

One of the more interesting discoveries is that it only took five minutes (!) of movement in a park, along a trail, or in a garden to achieve the greatest effect on mental health.

Jo Barton and Jules Pretty at the University of Essex, authors of the study, explain some of the implications, especially for the treatment of stress, depression, and other types of mental anguish. An excerpt:

The results show acute short-term exposures to facilitated green exercise improves both self-esteem and mood irrespective of duration, intensity, location, gender, age, and health status….

The findings also suggest that those who are currently sedentary, nonactive, and/or mentally unwell would accrue health benefits if they were able to undertake regular, short-duration physical activity in accessible (probably nearby) green space. Such doses of nature will contribute to immediate mental health benefits. As with smoking, giving up inactivity and urban-only living results in immediate and positive health outcomes, even from short duration and light activity such as walking….

The outcomes do suggest a new priority for frontline environmental and health professionals—a regime of doses of nature may be prescribed for anyone, but will have a greater effect for the inactive or stressed and mentally ill, or at presurgery (source) or for recovery (source). Employers, for example, could encourage staff in stressful workplaces to take a short walk at lunchtime in the nearest park to improve mental health, which may in turn affect productivity. A particular focus should be on children: regular outdoor play brings immediate health benefits, and may instill healthy behaviors early in life (source)…. And outdoor free-play is vital for development and cognitive skills (source).


“What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis.”
Jo Barton and Jules Pretty
Environmental Science & Technology
, Article ASAP
DOI: 10.1021/es903183r
Publication Date (Web): March 25, 2010
Online access:

May 6, 2010 at 9:52 am 2 comments

Run like a rat

Researchers at Princeton University recently made a remarkable discovery about the brains of rats that exercise…

The “cells born from running,” the researchers concluded, appeared to have been “specifically buffered from exposure to a stressful experience.” The rats had created, through running, a brain that seemed biochemically, molecularly, calm.

From a great NYT story on “Why Exercise Makes You Less Anxious.”

November 20, 2009 at 5:49 am Leave a comment

Lehrer on alcohol and exercise

A counterintuitive finding: people who regularly drink alcohol also exercise more. Obviously, there are plenty of confounding variables here – maybe drinkers exercise in order to burn off that six-pack of beer – but it’s yet another piece of evidence suggesting that booze, at least when consumed in moderation, isn’t a public health threat.

More here.

September 2, 2009 at 12:22 am Leave a comment

TriFuel: The Exact Gym Workout to Do During Race Season

With videos of each exercise:

“The Exact Gym Workout to Do During Race Season.”

Station 1: Hip External Rotators

Exercise 1: Band Side Walks – 20 steps in each direction

Exercise 2: Hip Hikes – 10 per side

Exercise 3: Ice Skaters- 10 per side

Station 2: Shoulder External Rotators

Exercise 1: Bow Row – 10 per side

Exercise 2: Lateral Step with Reverse Fly – 10 per side

Exercise 3: Pull-ups or Pull-downs – 10 (no video, you know how to do these)

Station 3: Core External Rotators

Exercise 1: Side Plank Rotations – 10 per side

Exercise 2: Cable Torso Twists – 15 per side

Exercise 3: Woodchoppers – 10 per side

By incorporating this routine at least once per week during race season, you will be working the exact muscles necessary to keep you injury free AND make you faster.

August 21, 2009 at 11:06 am Leave a comment

Moved to learn

Research indicates exercise primes students for learning — Fit children may have less stress, longer attention spans, better memories and be more prepared to learn, according to recent research. Struggling students who took a physical-education class prior to an algebra class improved their test scores by 20.4%, compared with 3.9% improvement for other students, according to data from an Illinois high school. Click to read “A Fit Body Means a Fit Mind,” an article by Vanessa Richardson published in the June edition of Edutopia magazine that describes the research and science about how physical activity, especially strength and cardio exercises,  helps kids to boost their brainpower in schools.

June 5, 2009 at 5:42 am Leave a comment

Predicting healthy aging

One of the most comprehensive and longest longitudinal studies of adult development — certainly of adult American males — is the Harvard Grant Study. Among its findings:

There are “seven major factors that predict healthy aging, both physically and psychologically,”

  • Employing mature adaptions, e.g. “altruism, humor, anticipation (looking ahead and planning for future discomfort), suppression (a conscious decision to postpone attention to an impulse of conflict, to be addressed in good time), and sublimation (finding outlets for feelings, like putting aggression into sport, or lust into courtship)”;
  • Education;
  • Stable marriage;
  • Not smoking;
  • Not abusing alcohol;
  • Some exercise;
  • Healthy weight.

Half of the men studied with at least five of these protective factors were classified as “happy-well” at age 80, and 7.5% percent were classified as “sad-sick.” In contrast, not a single man who had three or fewer of these factors by the age of 50 could be classified as “happy-well” at age 80. And controlling for physical fitness and health, “the men who had three or fewer protective factors were three times as likely to be dead at 80 as those with four or more factors.”

This information comes from Joshua Wolf Shenk’s lengthy and fascinating article for the Atlantic Monthly, titled “What Makes Us Happy?

What has no bearing on our ability “to work and love as we grow old”? Some surprises: “Cholesterol levels at age 50 have nothing to do with health in old age.”

Also, “Reguar exercise in college predicted late-life mental health better than did physical health.”

Fun fact: President John F. Kennedy was a subject in the Grant Study.

More here.

play, think…
J.R. Atwood

May 27, 2009 at 4:00 am Leave a comment

Congress: Time to get PHIT

I applaud the spirit of a new piece of legislation making its way through the halls of Congress for its focus on preventative care.

H.R. 215, The Personal Health Investment Today Act of 2009, introduced today by Congressman Ron Kind (D-WI), would “amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to treat certain amounts paid for physical activity, fitness, and exercise as amounts paid for medical care.”


The PHIT Act would change current federal tax law to allow for the deduction or use of pre-tax dollars to cover expenses related to sports, fitness and other physical activities. Americans could invest up to $2,000 annually to pay for physical activities by investing money in existing pre-tax Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA), Medical Savings Accounts (MSA) and/or medical reimbursement arrangements.  PHIT would only expand the expenses eligible for reimbursement to include physical activity costs as a form of prevention; PHIT would not increase contribution limits to these accounts. Once an individual or family spends 7.5% of their income on qualified medical expenses, they could deduct physical activity expenses directly.

To read the full text of the bill and to track it through the legislative process, click here.

play, think…
J. R. Atwood

April 30, 2009 at 4:36 pm Leave a comment

Spending the workday at 1 MPH

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my primary research interests is the way movement, physical activity, and aerobic exercise can be incorporated into the traditional school environment to facilitate learning among students. Thus after recently re-reading the NYT article, “I Put In 5 Miles at the Office,” I have begun to wonder if schools might benefit from outfitting some of their classrooms with Walkstations.

The health benefits of engaging in constant and regular movement are obvious: Some employees at organizations that have installed treadmill desks report significant fitness improvement — “more than 50 pounds of weight loss, if I were to keep my diet the same.” Researchers have also found an increase in worker productivity and efficiency among employees who use the Walkstation. But I’m equally fascinated about the cognitive benefits of elevating one’s heartrate, and the promise of improving academic achievement by literally moving while learning.

Near the top of my research agenda is doing an experimental study with the treadmill desks designed by Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic, in which the motivation, health, and academic achievement of students who use a custom designed (i.e., student-sized and school-appropriate) treadmill-like personal workspace are compared to students in a control group who work while sitting down at regular desks.

In the meantime, the takeaway is to stand-up and get moving, even when we work!

More resources:

play, think…
J.R. Atwood

April 16, 2009 at 5:55 pm 5 comments

Physical and mental fitness of students

One of my primary research interests is the effect of fitness and cardiovascular activity on learning. There are a couple of fantastic news items to share on this topic…

** The Whole Child Blog summarizes a recent report in Science Daily:

Researchers at the University of Illinois have found a positive link between physical activity and attention and physical activity and academic achievement in children. Children in this study were better able to pay attention and performed better on academic tests after bouts of physical exercise. Particularly in reading comprehension, students tested performed a full grade level better after exercise. The study has prompted some curricular recommendations: integrating physical activity into lessons, daily outdoor recess, and 150 minutes of physical education per week at the elementary level and 225 minutes at the secondary level.

** This Chicago Tribune story briefly reports on some of the potential pedagogical practices teachers can use to integrate movement into their teaching practices to stimulate learning, a theory that is perhaps being studied most extensively in the Naperville school district outside Chicago and with a program called PE4life:

Emerging research suggests that incorporating physical movement in the classroom improves student focus and attention. As a result, teachers are trying everything from standing desks to exercise stability balls instead of chairs. Those who keep chairs often encourage two- or three-minute bursts of fitness in the classroom during the day.

I first learned about these news stories via the ASCD SmartBrief, a daily compilation of some of the top stories in K-12 education. The service is free and I highly recommend that anyone interested in education policy sign-up to get the daily briefing.

play, think…
J.R. Atwood

April 10, 2009 at 7:38 am 1 comment

An entrepreneurial teacher, advice from a hedge fund manager, and how kids don’t make people happy

With the news that Harvard University’s endowment has lost over $8 billion (!) dollars in value over the first four months of its fiscal year, perhaps the entrepreneurship of this teacher should be applauded. (Hat tip to MH.) From Slashdot:

Tom Farber, a calculus teacher at Rancho Bernardo high school in San Diego, has come up with a unique way of covering district cuts to his supplies budget. He sells ads on his tests. “Tough times call for tough actions,” Tom says. The price of an ad on a Mr. Farber Calc test is as follows: $10 for a quiz, $20 for a chapter test, and $30 for a semester final. Most of the ads are messages from parents but about a third of them come from local businesses. Principal Paul Robinson says reaction has been “mixed,” but adds, “It’s not like, ‘This test is brought to you by McDonald’s or Nike.’” I see his point. Being a local business whore is much better than being a multinational conglomerate whore.

Other news: Genetic tests can tell parents if their kids were born to run:

Atlas Sports Genetics is playing into the obsessions of parents by offering a $149 test that aims to predict a child’s natural athletic strengths. The process is simple. Swab inside the child’s cheek and along the gums to collect DNA and return it to a lab for analysis of ACTN3, one gene among more than 20,000 in the human genome.

The test’s goal is to determine whether a person would be best at speed and power sports like sprinting or football, or endurance sports like distance running, or a combination of the two. A 2003 study discovered the link between ACTN3 and those athletic abilities.

Speaking of Harvard and kids — and of “What Happy People Don’t Do” — reminds me of an article I read earlier this year about the relationship between parenting and happiness. In Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel GIlbert, Harvard professor of psychology, makes accessible research that debunks the universal assumption that having and raising kids is a joy-filled experience for parents.

Finally, in this uncertain economic climate, I share the simple and sage advice that my best friend received from his former boss, who is the founder of a hedge fund that invests in emerging markets:

The world is at a real inflection at the moment. I have never felt before the level of uncertainty in making any forecasts that we are dealing with now. Economics, politics, geopolitics, the future of our planet — all of these issues are surrounded by great unknowns and that has clearly caused anxiety levels and risk premia to soar.

If I have any useful advice for you, it would be to approach the coming period with boldness and a sense that you have nothing to lose. That might be an overstatement, but relatively speaking, it is not too far off. You have plenty of time in life to make a few more sharp mid-course corrections if it comes to that.

One of my favorite poems is “If”, by Rudyard Kipling. It is worth re-reading at a time like this.

Indeed. Be bold. If…


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream–and not make dreams your master,
If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings–nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And–which is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!

–Rudyard Kipling

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood 

December 4, 2008 at 7:38 am Leave a comment

Fit for Office

If President-elect Barack Obama and future First Lady Michelle Obama are able to find time in their schedules to work out – he for 45-90 minutes, 6 days a week; her for 90 minutes, 3 days a week — then so can/should even the most “time-starved” among us.

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood 

November 19, 2008 at 3:10 pm 1 comment

“I Crossed Your Path”

Using a Facebook application called “I Crossed Your Path,” cyclists will be able to make connections with each other by exchanging information – online or through a smartphone – about which routes they took that day. With the information it collects, the project might also help urban planners make better decisions on things like where new bike paths should be built.

From MIT, a quantum leap in bike mechanics, HT: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition e-newsletter.

Also from the SFBC: Get lit!

For all cyclists throughout San Francisco, be sure to stop by one of SFBC’s many stations throughout the city on December 2 to get your free blinky light. Details below…

Light Up the Night with FREE Blinky Bike Lights!

Hundreds of free bike lights will be distributed to cyclists traveling along the city’s major bike corridors on Thursday, December 2nd from 6-7pm by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. We are working to increase rider visibility in the dark hours, and lights are a key piece of safety gear! Check out for locations and information on how to volunteer. Spread the word to your friends and neighbors who are riding in the dark! Download a poster and put it up at your school, library, or neighborhood coffee shop. Please note: We are targeting cyclists who do not have lights and you must bring your bicycle to receive the free lights.

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood 

November 19, 2008 at 6:21 am Leave a comment

Education and the Next President

Tuesday, October 21, 7 to 9pm EST/4 to 6 pm PST: Be sure to tune-in to the webcast of a live debate between Linda Darling-Hammond, education adviser to Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama, and Lisa Graham Keegan, education adviser to Republican nominee John McCain. The debate, titled “Education and the Next President,” takes place at Teachers College, Columbia University and is being exclusively Webcast by

Read Education Week‘s coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign to learn more about where the two candidates and their running mates stand on a wide variety of education issues. Also, read the blog, Campaign K-12, for more analysis of the candidates’ views.


Those interested in the history, philosophy, and ideas of education might want to pick-up the current edition of Lapham’s Quarterly; the theme of the Fall 2008 publication is “Ways of Learning” and includes probing, provocative essays by Thomas Jefferson and Cardinal John Henry Newman to Michel Foucault and Dave Eggers.


On a different note…

*** “Top 5 Grisliest Sporting Injuries” at Peak Performance.

*** As Gretchen Reynolds of the NYT summarizes in this week’s e-issue of Play magazine, “llegal doping isn’t the only drug-related quandary in sports… The world’s best soccer players downed a mix of legal prescription drugs and nutritional supplements before and during almost every match of the 2002 and 2006 World Cup competitions. Using data supplied by team physicians, researchers found that, on average, each player used about two drugs or supplements per match. Some players were taking as many as seven different legal substances at the same time.” Study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

*** “New exercise guidelines released Tuesday set a minimum sweat allotment for good health” [italics mine] at Associated Press.

*** The “style and sensibility” of New York City bicyclists from the New York Times.

Play, think…
J. R. Atwood

October 11, 2008 at 9:40 am Leave a comment

“Thanks for thinking”

Teton Mountains

I just returned home after a week of high-altitude livin’ in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Two great runs bookended my trip: On day one of my vacation in Jackson, I went for a light and easy morning jog to stretch my legs. Twenty minutes into my jaunt through the neighboring community of Wilson (population: 1,300; elevation: 6,100 feet), I looked up at Teton Pass, the mountain road that climbs 2,200 vertical feet at grades of up to 10 percent and cuts through the rugged range that divides the Equality State from the Gem State, and was overwhelmed with a curiosity to run to the top. (In summers past I have busted my quads riding my bike to the summit, but this was my first attempt to run it.) A breathtaking view of the valley floor from an elevation of 8,400 feet was my reward. Incredible.

This run was just a warm-up for when I would play King of the Mountain(s) at the end of my vacation. Starting from Teton Village (elevation: 6,300 feet) at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, I darted up a trail that wraps its way to the top of Apres Vous Mountain (8,500 feet), then crossed over and trekked up to the tippity snow-capped top of Rendezvous Mountain (10,500 feet), and then descended just a wee-bit to Gondola Summit (9,000 feet). This epic trail run sometimes seemed like a Sisyphian challenge (especially the trudge up the steep, slippery, and bowl-shaped Sublette chutte), but was ultimately — because of the difficulty of the trek, the views afforded from the mountain peaks, the wildlife that I found myself surrounded by, and the quiet solitude of such an adventure  — the highlight of my trip.

Having just returned home, I want to share some noteworthy news items from the past week that I am just now having a chance to catch-up on:

** Philosophy Talk, one of my favorite local radio programs, gets some much deserved recognition, courtesy of the L.A. Times article, Yeah, these philosophy professors will give it some thought. “Thank you for thinking.”

** Gretchen Reynolds of the NYT highlights an important and oft overlooked concern about the health of endurance athletes: The sometimes obsessive weight iusses of male and female athletes:

In [a] study published earlier this year in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 223 Swedish Olympians (125 men and 98 women) were weighed, measured and asked about their eating habits. The thinner athletes, many of them from endurance sports, reported more episodes of wild weight swings and eating disorders than other athletes. Even more startling was that the eating and weight problems were most common among the thin male athletes. The women didn’t worry about their weight nearly as much. In fact, according to Dr. Hagmar Magnus, a physician at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm and the study’s lead author, “the female Olympians ate a lot and planned meals well. The men didn’t.”

Magnus says the lessons of the study are broad. For one, “we’ve all been paying a great deal of attention to female athletes, trying to help them avoid eating disorders,” he says. “We need to start doing that for men.”

In addition, “the best female athletes in Sweden eat quite well, which suggests that good eating is a real competitive advantage,” Magnus says. “As a physician, I see many female athletes, not quite so elite, who have eating problems. That may be what has kept them from the top ranks. I’d love to get the message to them, you can eat your way to greatness.”

** Walking book clubs?! Exercise the mind and the body to maximize cognitive and bodily health, says Dr. Arthur Kramer, Professor of Psychology and the Director of the Biomedical Imaging Center at the University of Illinois, in this interview with Alvaro Fernandez of SharpBrains.

** And follow-this up with another fascinating AF/SharpBrains discussion about why and how smart people do really dumb things, like the Harvard students who paid $204 for a $20 bill. Wha?! Ori Brafman, co-author of Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, explains “the different hidden forces” and “psychological undercurrents” of our decision making processes here.

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood

July 7, 2008 at 3:39 pm Leave a comment

Brain bucket

brain art

So. Much. Good. Stuff.

*** Can We Play?,” by Dr. David Elkind and published on the SharpBrains blog, is a summary of the “research [that] confirms the value of play.” It makes for an interesting, science-rooted companion to a book that deserves a deep and thorough re-read every year, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, by Thomist philosopher and Christian theologian Josef Pieper, who makes a compelling case that purposeless activity is the most purposeful activity that we can and should engage in!

*** What is the best way to boost cognitive functioning? By exercising the body or by exercising the mind? What about the use of nutrition supplements and the practice of meditation? Jeremy at PsyBlog explores these questions in, Brain Health: Physical or Mental Exercise?, also republished on the SharpBrains blog. (If you regularly peruse only one or two sites about the brain sciences, SharpBrains is the best.)

*** Light reading: Boris Johnson, the recently-elected Mayor of London, analogizes bike riding with and without a helmet to the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” sharp elbow game of politics in Get a bike helmet to get ahead – or maybe not, an opinion piece in Britain’s Daily Telegraph.

*** To listen to: NPR’s Talk of the Nation has an audio archive of today’s discussion with Alan Schwartz of the NYT about his front-page profile of Kendall Bailey, a “6-foot-6-inch 19 year-old”  diagnosed with cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and autism, but who also happens to be one the fastest disabled swimmers in the world. Kendall is so fast that he is favored to win gold, if not set a world record in the breastroke, at this summer’s 2008 Paralympics in Beijing. That is, if he is allowed to compete. Officials of the event have been slow to confirm whether Kendall, because of his intellectual and mental handicaps, would be allowed to compete alongside physically disabled athletes. The politics of sport and the heart of a champion. Read Schwartz’s article here.

*** Another provocative read: This story about how the government of Japan is responding to its own national obesity epidemic (it seems everyone, everywhere — not just those of us in the U.S. — is getting fatter) by imposing limits to the size of its citizens’ bellies. (!) If you are a male, it is against the law for your waist to exceed 33.5 inches; for women, the government says your waist can be no bigger than 35.4 inches. If you eat too much and are too plump around the mid-section, you can be fined and forced to attend health education courses. Too much government intervention, or a necessary public policy?

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood

June 18, 2008 at 8:16 pm Leave a comment

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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

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