Posts Tagged Naturopathic Doctor

Exercise During Pregnancy and Infant Brain Development

Exercise and physical activity have been found to be important to improving one’s general health and in reducing risk of developing different diseases. Recently, there has been an increased amount of research looking into the effects of exercise during pregnancy on newborns. Two such studies were presented at the 2013 Society of Neuroscience’s annual conference in San Diego. Specifically, they looked to determine the effect of exercise during pregnancy on infant brain development. Taken together, results suggest that physical activity has a beneficial impact on brain development for children.

Study 1 – Maternal exercise during pregnancy improves object recognition memory in adult male offspring

Researchers from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire used Long Evans rats as subjects to examine the effects of maternal exercise on memory in their adult male offspring. In particular, pregnant female rats were divided into two groups following conception. In one group, exercise wheels were placed in their cages and the pregnant rats were free to exercise. In the second group, the pregnant rats were placed in cages that did not contain an exercise wheel. After the offspring were born, the wheels were removed from the cages of the “exercise” group and the rats in both groups remained with their mothers until they were weaned.

At 60 days post birth the ability of the male offspring to recognize objects from memory over a period of 24 hours was assessed. Findings revealed that rats whose mothers exercised during pregnancy, were better at recognizing objects, demonstrating improved memory, compared to rats whose mothers did not exercise during pregnancy. Moreover, rats whose mothers exercised were better able to recognize objects two weeks later, demonstrating improved long term memory capabilities.

Study 2 – Foetal brain development is influenced by maternal exercise during pregnancy
In this study, researchers at the University of Montreal recruited women who were in their first trimester of pregnancy and randomly assigned them to either an active (minimum 20 minutes of low intensity exercise 3 days per week throughout their pregnancy) or to a sedentary group, who did not exercise.

A short time after the children were born (e.g. 8-12 days), the electrical activity of the children’s brains in response to auditory cues were examined using EEG (i.e. electroencephalography – which uses electrodes placed on the scalp to measure underlying brain activity). Results of the study showed that exercise had a beneficial effect on the brain of the newborns such that infants born to active mothers had brainwave patterns that indicated that their brains were more mature compared to infants born to inactive mothers.

In conclusion, physical activity during pregnancy has been shown to benefit the brain development of newborns. These studies further reinforce the importance of physical activity and the role it plays in promoting and maintaining health.

Graham Beaton is a Naturopathic Doctor practicing in Ottawa. If you have questions about how Naturopathic Medicine can help during pregnancy, about prenatal health or for an appointment, please call 613-290-6115.

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Does walking affect the risk of developing breast cancer?

Graham Beaton BHSc, ND
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

Several studies have shown that the risk of developing postmenopausal breast cancer is lower in women who are physically active (1). To show this, studies typically compare breast cancer rates in women who participate in regular vigorous physical activity (jogging/running, tennis, racketball) to women who are physically inactive. While these studies clearly show why physical activity is important and suggest that postmenopausal women should participate in vigorous physical activity, many women will not participate in “vigorous” physical activity due to health concerns (for instance osteoporosis) or lack of interest. Thus a question that arises, is if a woman is unable or unwilling to participate in vigorous physical activity, can their risk of breast cancer be lowered with regular moderate physical activity (i.e. walking)? A recent study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention looked to answer this question (2).

To explore the link between breast cancer and moderate physical activity, the researchers looked at cancer rates amongst postmenopausal women who participated in the CPS-II Nutrition Cohort (a prospective study of cancer incidence established by the American Cancer institute). The researchers collected information regarding levels of weekly physical activity (walking was the predominant form of physical activity) and categorized women into 3 separate groups: those who participated in moderate physical activity less than 3 hours per week, those active for 4 to 6 hours per week, and those who were active more than 7 hours per week.

Results of the study showed that women who were moderately physically active for more than 7 hours per week had a 14% lower risk of developing breast cancer compared to those who were moderately active for less than 3 hours per week. In accordance with previous results, results also confirmed that women who participated in vigorous activity had the greatest benefits, a 25% reduction in breast cancer risk.

These results provide evidence that physical activity even at a moderate level of intensity can have a large impact on one’s risk of developing breast cancer risk and overall health.

1. Friedenreich, CM. The role of physical activity in breast cancer etiology. Semin Oncol. 2010 Jun;37(3):297-302.

2. Hildebrand, J. S. et al. Recreational Physical Activity and Leisure-Time Sitting in Relation to Postmenopausal Breast Cancer Risk. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2013 Oct;22(10):1906-12

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Physical Activity vs Prescription Medications – Which is Better for Health?

It is well documented that physical activity has many positive effects on health (reference). In general, people who are physically active have a higher quality of life and are at a reduced risk of developing many chronic diseases (such as arthritis, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, respiratory illnesses) compared to individuals who are sedentary.

A question that now arises, is does physical activity have a greater effect on health compared to medications? A recent journal article in BMJ (published on October 1st, 2013) looked to address this question.

What did the researchers do?
To determine if physical activity had a greater impact on health compared to taking medications, the researchers pooled the results of 16 separate meta-analyses (four of which were on exercise and 12 on medications), where a meta-analysis is a statistical method of combining the results of similar studies to increase the number of participants who received an intervention. Health was examined by determining mortality rates associated with 4 diseases:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure

What did they find?

  • Coronary heart disease: Physical activity and medications were equally effective in reducing mortality.
  • Diabetes: Physical activity and medications were equally ineffective in reducing mortality.
  • Stroke: Physical activity was more effective than medications for reducing mortality risk.
  • Heart failure: Certain medications (diuretics) were superior to physical activity in reducing occurrences of heart failure.

Are there limitations to this study?
Yes, unfortunately there were a number of limitations to this study, making it difficult to reach a definitive conclusion.

  • There are a limited number of randomized clinical trials (RCT) looking at the effectiveness of exercise/physical activity on mortality. The majority of studies looking at the health effects of physical activity are observational, which are not as strong in predicting cause and effect as an RCT
  • The authors correctly commented that they had relied on information from previously completed meta-analyses, and that several larger RCTs had been completed but were not “pooled” in with their data. It is possible that these new RCTs could have affected the results.
  • It is unclear if the appropriate amount/type of physical activity was chosen in the original studies to reach a conclusion. This is important issue as some studies underestimate the amount of activity required to reach a desired outcome. An example of this would be how much exercise is required to lose weight? If a study has selected 30 minutes as the amount of time one is required to exercise in order to lose weight, it might be insufficient (more time might be required). As well, the study may not account for what an individual is doing for the remainder of the day with regards to being physically active. So, if a person is exercising 30 minutes per day, and he/she is sedentary for the rest of the day, the 30 minutes spent exercising would be insufficient to have an impact on weight loss or on other possible health outcomes.
  • In addition to the above point, while it is known what direct effect a medication has on an outcome (e.g. dose x will result in x% decrease of blood pressure), the same is not always known for exercise (e.g. how much and what type of exercise should be done to achieve a certain outcome, etc).

What is the take home message?
The take home message is that physical activity has equivalent or better outcomes in the treatment of certain health conditions. Specifically, being physically active will reduce the mortality risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Does this mean that if you suffer from certain conditions you should stop using your prescribed medications? Absolutely not. The findings from this article reinforce the fact that physical activity is vital to health, and being physically active can reduce one’s risk of mortality from certain diseases.

If you suffer from a chronic disease, or if you are at risk of developing a chronic disease, can physical activity help you? Yes. But before starting on a new exercise routine, talk to your health care provider about what type of activity is both safe and effective for you.

In practice, I council my patients on increasing their level of physical activity, taking into account their health condition(s), possible medications and level of physical fitness. If you have questions about a chronic health concern, physical activity or how Naturopathic Medicine can help you, please give me a call at 613-290-6115.

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Upcoming Health Seminar – Reducing High Blood Pressure

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Canada today. An important risk factor that contributes to the development of heart disease is high blood pressure. As the majority of Canadians will develop high blood pressure at some point in their lives, it is important to take steps to promote and maintain healthy blood pressure. Come and learn more about blood pressure, and how to reduce your risk of developing heart disease.

This seminar will focus on the following:

  • Description of high blood pressure and hypertension
  • Methods of evaluation and diagnosis
  • Risk factors for developing high blood pressure
  • Description of management

Graham Beaton BHSc, ND
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine
Common Ground Collaborative Care

Sunnyside Public Library
1049 Bank Street, Ottawa

Date and Time:
Wednesday January 23rd, 2013 at 2 pm

To register for this free event, please contact the Sunnyside Public Library or call 613-290-6115.

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