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Up On Our Feet sm

Moving from a Sedentary to a Physically-Active, Societal Way of Life

UP ON OUR FEET … an ongoing series of interviews, discussions, reports, and other formats on transforming societal life everywhere by individuals and institutions adopting a less-sedentary and more physically-active way of life, especially as this relates to education, health, the environment, and the economy. (click for videos)



Physical Activity: How the Body and Brain Are Integrated • Professor Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, University of California, Los Angeles (click for video)

“Walking (and exercise in general) actually generates a whole communication between the body and the brain because we have a lot of activity that is affecting muscles and the whole periphery, and, at the same time, the brain is capturing a lot of this activity and working by generating thoughts and a lot of issues related to the pleasure of walking. And then, the brain produces factors and molecules that go to the body, and the body answers.”

“People don’t realize it, but too much (physical) inactivity can do very bad things to our minds in terms of feeling the pressure of so many emotions that they come to haunt us.”

“What exercise does is to bring an energy supply (from food) and oxygen to many brain regions which is extremely important for the dynamics and maintenance of these regions.”

“There is the principle of ‘use it or lose it’ that applies to many things, including the action of exercise. So if we don’t use this cardiovascular system, if we are not using our arteries, many of these can collapse. So people who have been sedentary for a long time may have fewer arteries in their muscles and other tissues because they ‘lose it since they don’t use it.’ The same thing happens to the brain and other regions. So the more exercise we do, the better.”

“Our body was built to exercise. And if we don’t do that, we pay for it because we are violating our own evolutionary makeup that made our body in that way.”

“Exercise also works with other environmental factors like happiness. The science of happiness also exists in terms of how exercise can be combined with all of this to have good thoughts and a life-style that can be positive in many different ways.”

“In the human body, there is a whole integration and a continuum where every cell is connected to other cells and other tissues. And that’s extremely important because, theoretically, what happens to one part of the body, in those terms, will be affecting other parts of the body because the body is one unit. . . . Everything works together. And it’s so beautiful in the sense of how the brain communicates with the body, with practically every organ and every tissue. . . . And we are born this way.”

The Positive Effect of Physical Activity on Preventing and Treating Depression • Professor Philip Holmes, University of Georgia (click for video)

“We do know that a really good, structured exercise program is as effective (for treating depression) as pharmacotherapy (prescriptive drugs).”

“We found in our lab that it doesn’t take  a whole lot of exercise to increase the expression of trophic factors (molecules that enhance the brain’s function and a person’s mood). … What that tells us is that even a little bit of exercise is good (for preventing and treating depression) because it will increase trophic factors. So that will be beneficial. … So that tells me that the exercise does not need to be very intense. It’s not as if we need to go into training to get these benefits. We can get these benefits with relatively low levels of (physical) activity.”

“In terms of treating depression, you really need to be thinking about the more long-term changes that are happening over the course of days to weeks, how it’s changing the patterns of gene expression, and then maintaining those levels of gene expression to maintain these protective effects of the trophic factors.”

“Yeah, and that’s really the big challenge for the whole field, is figuring out what is the best strategy to change behavior and attitudes about exercise (to get people to adopt a more physically-active lifestyle and use physical activity as a way to prevent and treat depression).”

“People know that exercise can literally change the way the brain works. And it does so by protecting these critical circuits in the brain that are essential for normal, positive mood. … That change in the lifestyle, and just being more active, so all the basic things that we’re told about increasing physical activity in general—using the stairs, walking when you can to the store or post office—these kinds of little things can add up and have a significant benefit because that’s the way the brain wants to work.”

“The brain evolved to expect a relatively high level of (physical) activity. The brain didn’t evolve for us to be sitting at our desks, staring at a screen.”

“Not only are you exercising the rest of your body (when being physically active), but you are literally exercising these critical circuits in the brain when you perform these relatively simple tasks. Again, it doesn’t have to be a marathon; even walking around the block is activating these brain circuits, and that’s how the brain evolved.”

“And you think about the human condition now, just a few generations ago, people were much more active than they are now. So I think we’re doing a big social experiment where we’re looking at the impact of sedentary lifestyles over the last few generations on health in general, but mental health as well.”

Physical Activity Greatly Reduces the Risk of Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease • Professor Laura Middleton, University of Waterloo (click for video)

“Any vascular risk factor like hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes are all risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.”

“Physical activity is a protective factor (for Alzheimer’s disease). Healthy eating is associated with reduced risk, and particularly the Mediterranean diet or closely related diets.”

“They estimate that modifiable risk factors may account for about 40% of cases of Alzheimer’s disease. But if we could correct all these (lifestyle) risk factors, we could actually decrease the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease by that much.”

“Whereas countries like Canada and the US are going to see a doubling (over the next 30 years in the projected rates of dementia), those developing countries are expected to see a tripling in the rates of dementia over the same time period. … This is happening all over the world.”

“Those people (in the study conducted) who are in the highest third of physical-activity levels actually had a 90% lower risk of having cognitive impairment a few years down the road.”

“What we know now is that physical activity also influences the structure of the neural tissue in your brain; so the neurons (brain cells), the actual connective tissue that conducts information. So it (physical activity) both contributes to the repair of neurons where there’s damage, and can also contribute to the growth of new neurons and new connections between neurons.”

“We think of the brain as a thinking organ, right? But a huge portion of the brain is dedicated toward movement. … When you move, you’re stimulating your brain.”

“I absolutely agree that in modern society, we’ve gotten toward this very sedentary activity, and that has consequences for our body, but certainly for our brain as well. Both for cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, as well as for mental health, and mood and anxiety.”

“The brain influences movement, and the movement influences the brain. They can’t and don’t exist independently. They are inherently connected.”

“I would say the simple message is that if you want to improve your brain health and function, including risk of dementia and well-being, take up physical activity as early as possible and stay physically active right through even if you’re diagnosed with dementia because physical activity, the earlier you start, the better it is.”

“And that is inherently the challenge (people changing their behavior to become more physically active), isn’t it. Because most people know physical activity is good for them. … In the end, behavior change becomes the fundamental challenge.”

The Social and Economic Implications of Physical Activity and Today’s Youth: Needs and Challenges in Schools and Societies • Emeritus Professor Jouni Välijärvi, University of Jyväskylä (click for video)

“If we don’t do anything (regarding the physical well-being of children and youth), we’ll see more and more problems with the health of young people, more and more diseases like diabetes. But what was still more important for me was that, at that time, there were findings that cognitive development and the cognitive level of students and their physical activity are correlated. So it seems that physical activity is also important for cognitive skills at the individual level.”

“The main challenge is that the roots of many diseases in adulthood come from childhood. So if we don’t do anything during childhood development, the risks that are based on too little physical activity become a reality in adulthood. And when people are at a later age, when they’re 20, 25, or older, then it’s too late to make changes in their behavior. This is the basic reason why we have a growing number of diseases in countries like Finland and other European countries. It’s at the school age, and school is actually the only place where all children are, and that’s why it’s very important to have active schools for all students so we can change the behavior of the whole cohort.”

“There’s a correlation between academic achievement and physical activity.”

“On a political level, we need more activities to convince policymakers that mathematics and science and language skills are not the only ones (subjects that are important). In the long run, they may not be the most important (subjects to be taught in schools, but rather,) the well-being of students.”

“I am quite convinced that physical activity is becoming one of the keys in this discussion because we see what happens at quite an early age if students are not physically active; diseases are becoming more typical and earlier. Economists understand that this is also becoming very expensive.”

“These are integrated to each other (the physical, academic, and social-emotional aspects of students). If we don’t take care of all parts (of the student) at the same time or try to focus too much on some part, it means that we are trying to divide the personality in a way that is not very natural.”

Very Concerning: The Status of Physical Activity Among the World’s Children and Youth • Dr. Salomé Aubert, Active Health Kids Global Alliance (click for video)

“What we know is that so far, the situation is bad in terms of physical activity of the children and adolescents at the international level. The majority of children and adolescents are not getting their one hour of physical activity per day, on average, and this is bad. Something needs to be done to improve this situation.”

“This is something that we’ve known for a while that this situation is bad and we need to measure change or we can anticipate a big cost in terms of health, direct and indirect costs if the situation is not improved. And it was already estimated 10 years ago that the situation was bad, and here we are 10 years later and the situation is worse.”

“What is needed to finally reach the change that is needed is that we need a big, global cultural shift where an active society is the norm. This is the change that needs to happen, and we need to live in a society where the active choice is the best choice. The people and institutions who have the power to implement the change that is needed need to be convinced that doing this change will have a direct, rapid, positive impact for them economically and in other aspects.”

Running Program and 23 Consecutive Years of the Highest Academic Test Scores in the School Retired Teacher Pete Saccone, Meridian Elementary School (click for video)

“I just knew that I could use the (outdoor) running in the classroom in mathematics, social studies, you name it. … I was able to integrate it (running) into all areas of the curriculum, and that’s where fitness and academics came in.”

“As the years went on, I was able to say (to the new superintendents and principals), ‘They (my fifth-grade students) will do well academically. I can only tell you that every year I’ve been here (23 consecutive), these kids have had the greatest (highest in the school) test scores. They’re very successful, they don’t get into trouble, they like each other.’”

“It was amazing how their (students with behavioral issues) self-esteem just grew. They became confident. They made more friends because they could do something now that a lot of kids could never do. … They became better academically, and behavior-wise, some of them went from night to day because they said, all of a sudden, ‘I’m good at something.’”

Vanguard Finland: Integrating Physical Activity into Finnish Schools and Academic Classrooms • Professor Arja Sääkslahti, University of Jyväskylä (click for video)

“Physical activity supports motivation, it supports logical thinking. It also supports emotions, how we learn things by using the whole body, and how we learn through sensory stimulation. And physical activity offers and means this all.”

“In Finland, (at the primary level) our lessons are 45 minutes, which means that every hour has a 15-minute break when children go outdoors … After this kind of refreshment, they go back to the classroom and are ready to concentrate for the next lesson. … Classroom teachers are also encouraged to use ‘brain breaks’ after 20 minutes when they have some (physical) activities that help the children concentrate.”

“Genetically, we are built, created that we need to use our body muscles and have heartbeats, and breathe strongly, and use our senses to learn things and do things. So it’s part of our wellbeing. We need this kind of (physical) stimulation to be happy and to learn things.”

“There could be some engineers and IT officers who blame something else, but sorry, it’s not true.”

(What I’ve learned from all my years of work:) “This might sound quite simple, or maybe even too simple, but it’s ‘Go out to play.’ It’s a strong message and it’s possible for everyone, but it’s so important. It’s supporting the total amount of physical activity on a daily basis, it supports your cognitive aspects, it keeps you well, your social wellbeing, healthy body. So it’s simple, but it’s the main thing, an easy thing, and equal for everyone.”

Physical Activity in Finland: Schools and Society, Strengths and Concerns, Today and Tomorrow Professor Timo Jaakkola, University of Jyväskylä (click for video)

“The fact is that it’s (physical activity) also decreasing in Finland. There are more and more youth who are not properly physically active.”

“Fifteen, 20 years ago, we (Finland) were in the top three in all those subjects (international test-score rankings in math, reading, and science), but now we are, I think, between 10 and 20. So we are decreasing every time they conduct the PISA (international test-score rankings) survey. … So I guess that one reason in Finland is that our schoolchildren are not physically active; they are too inactive.”

“I think life is too easy nowadays. Parents are driving their kids to school. That was not the case a couple of decades ago. They always went to school by muscle power. And they just have too much competition in their leisure time … with screens and different passive habits.”

“Yeah, that’s very sad (that adults have created the very life-styles for children that are at odds with the human genome).”

“In the future, we need to find ways to influence those lowest fitness-level, lowest skill-level kids (to be more physically active). We just need to do that. It’s our obligatory task as adults and academics. So, it will cause a lot of health problems for those kids, and a lot of money lost to society. So it will be a very big problem. We don’t understand it now how big a problem it will be after 10 years, 20 years. So I think the big message can be that we need to really find ways to influence those inactive kids.”

Physical Activity, Cognition, and Academic Achievement Professor Charles Hillman, Northeastern University (click for video)

“The human genome was developed in concert with movement, and is dependent upon movement. And so, from a metabolic perspective, we’re at a mismatch between our human genome and how we live our lives.”

“What we’re looking at here, in my view, is a species, and in this case children of that species, that are not adequately physically active, for the most part. And so, what we’re talking about is maybe less optimal cognitive performance from where we could be. And so, when we introduce physical activity into their world, we’re able to benefit their cognitive functions and, ultimately, their academic performance.”

“Time and again, we’ve shown that a single dose of physical activity benefits math and reading achievement within the hour following the cessation of the dose.”

“Look, I’m not a pedagogist; I’m not an expert in schools and education. But from my perspective, it’s time to update our school curriculum. And in my view, if I were an administrator of a school and genuinely interested in getting the best performance out of my students, there’d be time for physical activity and probably music and the arts every day because I know there’s benefit to music as well on brain and cognition, and what have you.”