Healthy behaviors offer a variety of physical rewards. Lifting weights can make you stronger, running helps your cardiovascular system, and eating the right foods can help you fight cancer and maintain a healthy weight. Another reason to start these healthy habits, especially at an early age, is to save money on healthcare costs. A recent study performed by researchers at Johns Hopkins suggests that if the percentage of elementary school children who participate in 25 minutes of physical activity three times a week increased from 32% to 50%, it could eliminate $21.9 billion in medical costs and lost wages over their lifetimes. This parameter for exercise frequency in children is the guideline recommendation by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.
The study team determined this increase in physical activity would result in 340,000 fewer obese and overweight youth. Individuals with a higher body mass index (BMI) at age 18 tend to have a higher BMI throughout adulthood. This higher BMI is linked to the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and other issues that can result in medical costs or loss in productivity. According to this study, $62.3 billion in costs and lost wages could be avoided if all 8-11 year olds in the U.S. met in these recommended activity parameters. These numbers help demonstrate how increases to childhood activity can reduce the country’s financial burden of medical costs.
The calculations used by the researchers may be an underestimation of actual costs because this study only took into account costs associated with being overweight or obese. Regular exercise offers additional health benefits besides weight management, including increased bone mineral density, increased muscle mass, and mood improvements. These less obvious effects can help prevent broken bones, falls, depression, and other issues that could drive up medical costs.
The next logical step is to determine how to best increase activity in youth. There have been many recent cuts to physical education programs in schools, which seems to be a step in the wrong direction. One study concluded that afterschool activity programs would be twice as effective as any ban on child-directed fast-food advertising when it comes to reducing obesity. These studies demonstrate that implementing programs aimed at keeping kids active may be the best insurance policy against high healthcare costs down the road.
Chicory is a plant with vibrant blue flowers and a deep taproot and toothed leaves that resemble a dandelion. Native to Eurasia, chicory now grows naturally throughout North America. It is best known for its root, which is often dried, ground, and used in coffee. Chicory coffee is most commonly associated with New Orleans, but it originated in 1808 during a coffee shortage in France. During this time, the coffee was mixed with chicory, which has a similar flavor but does not contain any caffeine.
Besides being a flavorful addition to coffee, chicory has many health benefits that are currently being explored. One of the most common uses is as a digestive aid. Chicory contains inulin, which is a probiotic that can be used to help ease acid reflux, indigestion, and heartburn. Inulin has also been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol.
Chicory has been used traditionally as a treatment for arthritis, and recent studies have confirmed its effectiveness. In one study, 70% of osteoarthritic subjects who received a chicory treatment reported a noticeable improvement in pain. These improvements are attributed to chicory’s significant anti-inflammatory properties, which may also help relieve aches, muscle pains, and joint soreness.
While chicory is associated with numerous health benefits, women who are pregnant should not use it in excess because there is a possibility that it can stimulate menstruation and possibly a miscarriage. And since chicory is closely related to other plants such as ragweed, marigolds, and daisies, it could cause a reaction in those with these common outdoor allergies.
One of the most common questions trainers and nutritionists get is whether it’s best to eat before or after an exercise session. A recent study attempted to answer this by examining the effects of feeding status on gene expression on fat tissue during exercise in overweight male subjects. On one day, the subjects fasted before exercising and on another day, the subjects ate a carbohydrate rich meal 2 hours prior to exercise. The gene expression of PDK4 and HSL increased when fasting and decreased when subjects ate the meal. Increases in PDK4 likely means that fat tissue was used to fuel metabolism. The decrease in PDK4 when a meal was eaten shows that the fat tissue was not used for energy, but rather the recently ingested food was the source. HSL increases when fat tissue uses energy to support increased activity.
After a meal, fat tissue is busy reacting to the ingested food and trying to store the energy. It is preoccupied and does not react the same way as when the body is in a fasted state. This may be a good option for decreasing fat, but may not be ideal if higher intensity activity is being performed. In this case, trying to exercise at a higher level may result in greater fatigue at earlier point if exercise is being done on an empty stomach.
Health Matters is written by Lindsey Guthrie, MS, RD, LD/N and Tyler Guthrie, MS, CSCS.
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