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Ditching car for walking or biking just one day a week cuts carbon footprint

Active transport’ – cycling, e-biking or walking – can help tackle the climate crisis according to a new study.

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Swapping the car for walking, cycling and e-biking even just one day a week makes a significant impact on personal carbon emissions in cities.

‘Active transport’ – cycling, e-biking or walking – can help tackle the climate crisis according to a new study led by the University of Oxford’s Transport Studies Unit and including researchers from Imperial’s Centre for Environmental Policy as part of the EU-funded project PASTA: Physical Activity Through Sustainable Transport Approaches.

Meeting greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets requires a significant move away from motorised transport. The team found that shifting to active transport could save as much as a quarter of personal carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from transport.

Published in the journal Global Environmental Change, this is the first study of the carbon-reducing impact of city-based lifestyle changes, and reveals that increases in active mobility significantly lower carbon footprints, even in European cities that already have a high incidence of walking and cycling.

Co-author Dr Audrey de Nazelle, from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, said: “Our findings suggest that, even if not all car trips could be substituted by bicycle trips, the potential for decreasing emissions is huge.

“This is one more piece of evidence on the multiple benefits of active travel, alongside our previous studies showing cycling is the best way to get around cities for both physical and mental health, and that promoting cycling helps tackle obesity. This should encourage different sectors to work together to create desirable futures from multiple health, environmental and social perspectives.”

Small swaps, big impact

The study followed nearly 2,000 people in seven European cities (Antwerp, Belgium; Barcelona, Spain; London, UK; Orebro, Sweden; Rome, Italy; Vienna, Austria; Zurich, Switzerland), collecting data on daily travel behaviour, journey purpose, as well as information on where their home and work or study location was, whether they have access to public transport, and socio-economic factors.

The team performed statistical modelling of the data to assess how changes in active mobility, the ‘main mode’ of daily travel, and cycling frequency influenced mobility-related CO2 emissions over time and space.

Lead researcher Dr Christian Brand , from the University of Oxford, said: “We found that those who switch just one trip per day from car driving to cycling reduce their carbon footprint by about 0.5 tonnes over a year, representing a substantial share of average per capita CO2 emissions.

“If just 10% of the population were to change travel behaviour, the emissions savings would be around 4% of lifecycle CO2 emissions from all car travel.”

The largest benefits from shifts from car to active travel were for business travel, followed by social and leisure trips, and commuting to work or place of study. These results also showed that those who already cycled had 84% lower CO2 emissions from all daily travel than non-cyclists.

Doing something about climate change

For the cities in this study, average per capita (per person) CO2 emissions per year from transport (excluding international flights and shipping) ranged between 1.8 tonnes in the UK to 2.7 tonnes in Austria. According to the Global Carbon Atlas, average per capita CO2 emissions from all activities were eight tonnes per year in the UK.

Dr Brand said: “A typical response to the climate crisis is to ‘do something’, such as planting more trees, or switching to electric vehicles. While these are important and effective, they are neither sufficient nor fast enough to meet our ambitious climate targets.

“Doing more of a good thing combined with doing less of a bad thing – and doing it now – is much more compliant with a ‘net zero’ pathway and preserving our planet’s and our own futures. Switching from car to active mobility is one thing to do, which would make a real difference, and we show here how good this can be in cities.”

Multiple benefits

The team say this will not only be good for the climate, but also for reducing social inequalities and improving public health and quality of urban life in a post-COVID-19 world.

Dr de Nazelle said: “To improve active travel take-up, cities across the world will need to increase investment in high-quality infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists and incorporate policy and planning concepts that require a fairly radical rethink of our cities.

“This is in turn likely to reduce inequalities, because the concepts involve mixing different population groups rather than maintaining the model of residential zoning by socioeconomic status currently used.”

Fitness

Returning to sports or exercise after recovering from COVID-19

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As COVID-19 affects everyone differently and the long-term effects are hard to predict, returning to exercise once recovered should be undertaken with great care, especially in the case of moderate to severe cases of COVID-19, says an expert from a top American hospital, Cleveland Clinic.

Sports medicine physician Marie Schaefer, MD, says: “The truth is, the disease can affect everyone differently. Anyone, including young athletes, could experience a severe case or have long-term damage, which is why it is so important to take this seriously.”

While experts know that in some people the virus can lead to damage of the heart, brain, lungs and kidneys, she says there is no way to pinpoint or predict who exactly these individuals will be. Some might also experience lingering symptoms, including shortness of breath, muscle aches, loss of stamina and exhaustion.

For many athletes and active people, Dr. Schaefer says, returning to activity will likely be a slow process and will require patience. Individuals should work with a physician to make sure they are progressing appropriately and to monitor their symptoms.

Timelines determined by severity of COVID-19

When an athlete or active individual is sick with COVID-19, they should not engage in any physical activity. During this time, they should focus on rest, good hydration, proper nutrition and following the advice of their physician or healthcare provider.

After this, the timeline of return to exercise or sport will be determined by how mild, moderate or severe the case was.

If an active individual or athlete only has a mild illness or tests positive without experiencing any symptoms, he or she can consider returning to activity after a 10-day isolation period. Once that window has passed, the athlete may consider a gradual return to physical activity, but must not have symptoms.

If an active individual or athlete had a moderate or a severe illness, or had to be hospitalized, he or she should be evaluated by a physician prior to restarting any type of exercise. Dr. Schaefer says these people may need to have additional tests, including ECGs, heart imaging or blood work before they are cleared to start a progression back into activity.

Myocarditis in athletes and active people

Dr. Schaefer points to the possibility of myocarditis, which is an inflammatory response of the heart due to a viral infection, such as COVID-19. It can cause swelling in the heart muscle making rigorous activity more difficult and sometimes, even deadly.

“Myocarditis is more likely to be found in people who had a moderate or severe case of the virus, but it can happen to anyone who was infected,” says Dr. Schaefer.

Given this increased potential risk for myocarditis, athletes or active people returning after COVID-19 infections need to be cleared by a healthcare provider who will determine if any additional testing is needed. Because of the risk of myocarditis, athletes and anyone who exercises should follow a graduated return to physical activity over the course of a week to monitor for signs and symptoms of this serious complication.

Advice for easing back into fitness

While serious athletes should follow a Return to Play (RTP) schedule supervised by a professional trainer or physician, Dr. Schaefer has three pieces of advice for anyone planning to reintroduce exercise into their routine.

1. Listen to your body. If someone is experiencing symptoms like chest pain or heart palpitations, they should stop exercising immediately and consult with a doctor. Exercise and movement are important for overall health, but for COVID-19, things can change overnight as we learn more about the virus, she says. People should keep monitoring themselves and if something feels more serious than just a consequence of being out of shape, they need to stop exercising and talk to a physician.

If individuals experience any of the follow red flag symptoms, they stop exercising immediately:

  • chest pain or heart palpitations
  • nausea
  • headache
  • high heart rate not proportional to exertion level or prolonged heart rate recovery.
  • feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • shortness of breath, difficulty catching breath or abnormal, rapid breathing
  • excessive level of fatigue
  • swelling in the extremities
  • syncope (passing out)
  • experiencing tunnel vision or loss of vision.

2. Take it easy. Recovered patients should not try to “power through” as they did in the past. Athletes of all ages should follow a gradual progression to get back into exercise. They will need to build up the time and intensity of their workouts. Dr. Schaefer advises starting with a slow walk and if that feels alright, trying a brisk walk the next day. They will need to gradually increase the time they spend walking, building this up for about one to two weeks before returning to HIIT training or CrossFit, for example.

3. Be patient. Dr. Schaefer points out that even if someone the recovered patients were training for a marathon prior to becoming infected, they will likely discover that their body has changed a bit, which warrants extra caution. “Do not push too hard on a body that is still trying to recover,” she concludes.

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Want to be robust at 40-plus? Meeting minimum exercise guidelines won’t cut it

5 hours of moderate activity a week may be required to avoid midlife hypertension, UCSF-led study shows.

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Young adults must step up their exercise routines to reduce their chances of developing high blood pressure or hypertension – a condition that may lead to heart attack and stroke, as well as dementia in later life.

Current guidelines indicate that adults should have a minimum of two-and-a-half hours of moderate intensity exercise each week, but a new study led by UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals reveals that boosting exercise to as much as five hours a week may protect against hypertension in midlife – particularly if it is sustained in one’s thirties, forties and fifties.

In the study publishing in American Journal of Preventive Medicine on April 15, researchers followed approximately 5,000 adults ages 18 to 30 for 30 years. The participants were asked about their exercise habits, medical history, smoking status and alcohol use. Blood pressure and weight were monitored, together with cholesterol and triglycerides.

Hypertension was noted if blood pressure was 130 over 80 mmHg, the threshold established in 2017 by the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association.

The 5,115 participants had been enrolled by the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study and came from urban sites in Birmingham, Ala., Chicago, Minneapolis and Oakland, Calif. Approximately half the participants were Black (51.6 percent) and the remainder were White. Just under half (45.5 percent) were men.

Fitness Levels Fall Fast for Black Men Leading to More Hypertension

Among the four groups, who were categorized by race and gender, Black men were found to be the most active in early adulthood, exercising slightly more than White men and significantly more than Black women and White women. But by the time Black men reached age 60, exercise intake had slumped from a peak of approximately 560 exercise units to around 300 units, the equivalent to the minimum of two-and-a-half hours a week of moderate intensity exercise recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This was substantially less exercise than White men (approximately 430 units) and slightly more than White women (approximately 320 units). Of the four groups, Black women had the least exercise throughout the study period and saw declines over time to approximately 200 units.

“Although Black male youth may have high engagement in sports, socio-economic factors, neighborhood environments, and work or family responsibilities may prevent continued engagement in physical activity through adulthood,” said first author Jason Nagata, MD, of the UCSF Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine. Additionally, Black men reported the highest rates of smoking, which may preclude physical activity over time, he noted.

Physical activity for White men declined in their twenties and thirties and stabilized at around age 40. For White women, physical activity hovered around 380 exercise units, dipping in their thirties and remaining constant to age 60.

Rates of hypertension mirrored this declining physical activity. Approximately 80-to-90 percent of Black men and women had hypertension by age 60, compared with just below 70 percent for White men and 50 percent for White women.

“Results from randomized controlled trials and observational studies have shown that exercise lowers blood pressure, suggesting that it may be important to focus on exercise as a way to lower blood pressure in all adults as they approach middle age,” said senior author Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, MD, PhD, of the UCSF Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

“Teenagers and those in their early twenties may be physically active but these patterns change with age. Our study suggests that maintaining physical activity during young adulthood – at higher levels than previously recommended – may be particularly important.”

More Exercise from Youth to Midlife Offers Best Protection Against Hypertension

When researchers looked at the 17.9 percent of participants who had moderate exercise for at least five hours a week during early adulthood – double the recommended minimum – they found that the likelihood of developing hypertension was 18 percent lower than for those who exercised less than five hours a week. The likelihood was even lower for the 11.7 percent of participants who maintained their exercise habits until age 60.

Patients should be asked about physical activity in the same way as they are routinely checked for blood pressure, glucose and lipid profiles, obesity and smoking, Nagata said, and intervention programs should be held at schools, colleges, churches, workplaces and community organizations. Black women have high rates of obesity and smoking, and low rates of physical activity, he said, and should be an important group for targeted intervention.

“Nearly half of our participants in young adulthood had suboptimal levels of physical activity, which was significantly associated with the onset of hypertension, indicating that we need to raise the minimum standard for physical activity,” Nagata said. “This might be especially the case after high school when opportunities for physical activity diminish as young adults transition to college, the workforce and parenthood, and leisure time is eroded.”

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Childhood diet and exercise creates healthier, less anxious adults

Though diet and exercise are consistently recommended as ways to promote health, this study is the first to examine the long-lasting, combined effects of both factors when they are experienced early in life.

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Exercise and a healthy diet in childhood leads to adults with bigger brains and lower levels of anxiety, according to new UC Riverside research in mice.

Though diet and exercise are consistently recommended as ways to promote health, this study is the first to examine the long-lasting, combined effects of both factors when they are experienced early in life.

“Any time you go to the doctor with concerns about your weight, almost without fail, they recommend you exercise and eat less,” said study lead and UCR physiology doctoral student Marcell Cadney. “That’s why it’s surprising most studies only look at diet or exercise separately. In this study, we wanted to include both.”

The researchers determined that early-life exercise generally reduced anxious behaviors in adults. It also led to an increase in adult muscle and brain mass. When fed “Western” style diets high in fat and sugar, the mice not only became fatter, but also grew into adults that preferred unhealthy foods.

These findings have recently been published in the journal Physiology and Behavior. To obtain them, the researchers divided the young mice into four groups — those with access to exercise, those without access, those fed a standard, healthy diet and those who ate a Western diet.

Mice started on their diets immediately after weaning, and continued on them for three weeks, until they reached sexual maturity. After an additional eight weeks of “washout,” during which all mice were housed without wheels and on the healthy diet, the researchers did behavioral analysis, measured aerobic capacity, and levels of several different hormones.

One of those they measured, leptin, is produced by fat cells. It helps control body weight by increasing energy expenditure and signaling that less food is required. Early-life exercise increased adult leptin levels as well as fat mass in adult mice, regardless of the diet they ate.

Previously, the research team found that eating too much fat and sugar as a child can alter the microbiome for life, even if they later eat healthier. Going forward, the team plans to investigate whether fat or sugar is more responsible for the negative effects they measured in Western-diet-fed mice.

Together, both studies offer critical opportunities for health interventions in childhood habits.

“Our findings may be relevant for understanding the potential effects of activity reductions and dietary changes associated with obesity,” said UCR evolutionary physiologist Theodore Garland.

In other words, getting a jump start on health in the early years of life is extremely important, and interventions may be even more critical in the wake of the pandemic.

“During the COVID-19 lockdowns, particularly in the early months, kids got very little exercise. For many without access to a park or a backyard, school was their only source of physical activity,” Cadney said. “It is important we find solutions for these kids, possibly including extra attention as they grow into adults.”

Given that exercise was also shown to reduce adult anxiety, Cadney believes children who face these challenges may face unique physical and mental health issues as they become adults in the coming decade.

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