alive takes a look back at some of the significant health studies of 2012. Whether the studies focus on exercise, sleep, or supplements, they all reflect simple things we can do as individuals to improve and/or maintain our health.

10-20-30 is a new time-efficient training concept developed by Danish researchers to improve running performance. Despite spending less time training, runners were able to increase their running speed while significantly decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol.

Follow this routine:

  • Perform a 1 km low-intensity warm-up, such as walking.
  • Divide a 5-minute block of time into 1-minute intervals:
    • Run at high intensity for 10 seconds.
    • Run at medium intensity for 20 seconds.
    • Run at low intensity for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 4 times.
  • Rest for 2 minutes.

Repeat this routine 3 to 4 times to complete the workout.

36% of seniors, aged 70 to 93, who exercised regularly and used a computer, tested cognitively normal, compared to only 20.1 percent of seniors who didn’t exercise or use a computer. As baby boomers age, researchers predict an increase in dementia. But when exercise is combined with mental activities our brains continue to function normally.

Beneficial moderate physical exercise includes brisk walking, strength training, swimming, yoga, and doubles tennis. Mentally stimulating activities include using a computer, reading, playing music, and participating in social activities.

80 mg of timed-release iron (ferrous sulphate) reduced fatigue in a group of women aged 18 to 50 who were low in iron but not anemic. The women took iron supplements for 12 weeks. Researchers claim that iron deficiency may be a cause of fatigue in women of childbearing age that is overlooked, and note that supplementing with iron is preferable to unwarranted pharmacological treatments.

30 minutes of weight training five times a week, for a total of 150 minutes, may reduce men’s risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 34 percent, according to a Harvard study. By adding 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week, such as brisk walking or running, they may be able to reduce their diabetes risk by up to 59 percent.

While combining the two types of exercise produces the best results, even moderate amounts of weight training alone are beneficial. Since the study involved only men, researchers aren’t sure whether these results apply to women.

2 yoga classes a week for eight weeks significantly improved balance in a small group of stroke survivors. Researchers believe the combination of postures, deep breathing, and meditation may be more therapeutic than traditional exercise.

Improvement in balance was greater than in other post-stroke exercise clinical trials, and benefits occurred even when individuals started yoga six months after having a stroke. Participants reported increased confidence in the ability to maintain their balance, which led them to attempt more challenging activities.

20 years of meditation practice can strengthen the brain, according to MRI scans done on 50 meditators who practised various types of meditation. Researchers found that the brains of long-time meditators develop more folds in the cortex of the brain, a process also known as gyrification.

This may allow their brains to become more adept at processing information, forming memories, and making decisions. The longer a person practised meditation, the more folds were formed in the brain’s cortex.

12 minutes of performing chanting yogic meditation each day for eight weeks reduced stress levels in caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Previous studies have shown that caregivers experience increased levels of cardiovascular disease and emotional stress.

Researchers found that Kirtan Kriya meditation, which involves chanting along with repetitive finger movements, can reduce the activity of 68 genes that are linked to increased inflammation in the body. This finding is beneficial to anyone who wants to reduce their stress level but who has limited time to do so.

12 weekly specialized group yoga classes may provide a cost-effective alternative treatment for chronic or recurrent low back pain compared to traditional medical treatment.

In the largest UK study on the benefits of yoga, two groups of people received care from their general practitioner (GP), while one group also took yoga classes. Due to its long-term positive effects, many GPs believe that yoga could become the primary treatment option for the 2.6 million Brits who suffer from low back pain.

Fewer than 6 hours of sleep a night significantly increases the risk of stroke symptoms, such as numbness or weakness down one side of the body, dizziness, loss of vision, or a sudden inability to speak, in middle-aged to older adults of normal weight and who are at low risk for obstructive sleep apnea. Not getting enough sleep may lead to the development of traditional factors for stroke risk. Researchers speculate that once these factors are present, they may exert more influence than lack of sleep itself. The impact of lack of sleep on stroke risk merits further research.

27% increased risk of heart attack was found in people who own a car and a television compared to those who own neither, according to a study on work and leisure activity levels of 29,000 people in 52 countries. Owning a car or TV is considered an indicator of a sedentary lifestyle. However, one of the findings highlighted is that any amount of leisure time exercise helps to reduce the risk of heart attack.

22% of Canadian women of childbearing age aren’t consuming enough folic acid to prevent neural tube defects in their babies, according to a national study. Researchers found that only 25 percent of women in this age range take a folic acid supplement. The use of supplements was significantly related to those at the highest income levels. Supplementation is essential for women who wish to conceive, as it ensures an optimal level of red blood cell folate concentration to prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, in babies.

Vitamin D supplements may help protect against the spread of viral infections among older people during the winter flu season. A US study shows that an environmental factor, such as lack of sunlight, or vitamin D, may be one reason why infections spread so rampantly in winter months. More research is needed to establish this link conclusively, but supplementation may be a cost-effective way to boost vitamin D levels in older people.

32 times greater than average was the degree to which obese people experienced insulin resistance when their vitamin D levels were low, compared with 20 times more for obese people with healthy levels of vitamin D, a US study has found. Insulin resistance is a major risk factor in the development of type 2 diabetes. Further research will examine whether vitamin D supplements could play a role in reducing insulin resistance in obese people.

62% fewer skin tumours were found in mice who used an exercise wheel and consumed caffeinated water, compared to mice who did neither. Researchers found that caffeine or exercise alone also conferred positive results in reducing skin tumours in mice, but the combination of both proved most effective. The caffeine/exercise combination also led to weight loss and reduced inflammation. Researchers surmise that humans could also benefit from similar combination treatments.

EGCG or epigallocatechin-3 gallate, one of the main ingredients in green tea, has been shown to increase production of neural progenitor cells in the brains of mice. EGCG helped mice with object recognition and spatial memory as well as enhanced learning. This property of green tea may also help humans fight the onset of degenerative diseases and memory loss.

About the Author

Ellen Niemer is an editor and creative services liaison at alive, where she loves bringing readers the latest research news each month in “The latest word.”