A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows that just 20 minutes of daily physical activity is enough to make the difference between the onset of diabetes or dodging that bullet in at-risk children.
The researchers randomly assigned over 200 overweight or obese grade school students to 20 or 40 minutes of supervised aerobic activity five days a week, or to a control group in which habitual activity (or lack thereof) was maintained for a period of 13 weeks.
Even Short Periods of Regular Exercise
Add Up to Significant Health Benefits
Both doses of physical activity significantly improved insulin sensitivity, suggesting diabetes prevention over time. The higher dose of activity was more effective than the lower at reducing weight and body fat, but both were significantly better than control. And in the case of fitness, measured formally with peak oxygen consumption, both doses were comparably effective, and both much better than control, i.e. doing just about nothing.
So while more exercise is better, some – and a rather small ‘sum’ at that – can do a remarkable amount of good. If we know – and it seems we do – that fitting 20 minutes of activity in during every school day can be enough to prevent diabetes in a large and growing percentage of our kids, it’s hard to believe that we would fail to act on that knowledge.
That much more so when we consider that a daily dose of exercise is likely to enhance academic performance rather than interfere with it. The idea of ‘sound mind – sound body’ should be familiar, because it’s the kind of sensible advice our grandparents gave us. Science now points in the same direction, it just took longer to get there.
Getting to 20 minutes a day is not a big hill to climb. My colleagues and I can provide a boost with a program called “ABC for Fitness,” which is freely available, courtesy of my non-profit organization, Turn the Tide Foundation. Designed for just this purpose, to give all kids enough daily physical activity to immunize them against serious chronic diseases, “ABC for Fitness” reconciles the square peg of physical education with the round hole of the modern school day by breaking physical activity up into brief bursts throughout the day, doled out right in the classroom. By teaching during the bursts, teaching time can actually be increased.
We studied the program involving over 1,000 children, half receiving “ABC for Fitness,” the other half a standard curriculum. The daily activity bursts were associated with improved fitness, decreased behavioral problems, preserved academic performance, reduced medication use for asthma, and a 33 percent reduction in overall prescriptions for ADHD. Recess is a far better remedy for the rambunctiousness of young children than Ritalin.
We have reason to think that the benefits are similar for adults. We know, for instance, from the Diabetes Prevention Program that modest improvements in weight, activity and diet can prevent diabetes almost two times in three among high-risk adults.
We know as well from the largest available database on sustained weight loss, the National Weight Control Registry, that even modest daily activity appears to be a nearly universal element in successfully maintaining weight over the long term. Doing so, in turn, insulates against all of the major chronic diseases for which obesity is a risk factor, including but not limited to heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes.
With that in mind, my colleagues and I have a free program to offer adults, to help fit some or all of those minutes in each day: “ABE for Fitness”.
There are 1440 minutes in every day. Of that total, 20 minutes represent less than 1.4 percent. If a day were a dollar, for a penny and half of it you could pay to keep diabetes away from you and your children.
Better still, we might commit in the might of our multitudes – as loving parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles – to insisting that every school in the country offer every young child the minimal, healthful dose of physical activity. We know how valuable it is, and we know it can be done while promoting rather than hindering academic achievement. And it can be done at no cost. Why should we accept any excuses?
All this is a matter of mere minutes a day, minutes that can be the difference between diabetes and staying healthy. That is clearly a difference that matters. We all have the same invitation, even if each of us chooses to march to the beat of a different drummer: To make a small investment of our daily time for a big return in health, for our children and ourselves alike.
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP is the founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. He is a board certified specialist in both Internal Medicine and Preventive Medicine/Public Health. He is the director and founder of the Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital in Derby, CT. For more information visit http://www.davidkatzmd.com and http://www.turnthetidefoundation.org
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