Life changes influence the amount of physical activity in a person, according to a recent study by the University of Jyväskylä. The birth of children and a change of residence, marital status and place of work all influence the number of steps of men and women in different ways. For women, having children, getting a job and moving from town to the countryside reduce everyday exercise.
A study conducted by the Faculty of Sports & Health Sciences found that the birth of the first child significantly reduces the number of everyday steps in women. As children grow, women’s aerobic steps, in turn, increase. Although the birth of children did not have a statistically significant effect on the number of steps in men, changes were also observed in men.
“With the birth of both the first and second child, the trend of aerobic steps declined in men,” says postdoctoral researcher Kasper Salin. “However, with the birth of the second child, the number of everyday steps began to rise. This can be explained by, for example, a decrease in exercise hobbies.”
Aerobic steps are movements of longer duration, lasting at least 10 minutes, with a step rate of at least 60 steps per minute. Aerobic steps are important for, among other things, heart health. The adult population should have at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week. Everyday steps describe other active movement on a daily basis.
“Steps can accumulate many times during the day if we just allow,” Salin explains it. “To increase your number of steps, you may not have to exercise separately each day. Instead, attention should be paid to everyday choices and, for example, choose stairs instead of the elevator or walk to the store instead of driving.”
Where we live influences the amount of physical activity
The study also examined the impact of one’s place of residence and of changing it. Moving from the city to the countryside reduced the overall steps and everyday steps of women, but no similar effect was observed for men. For men living permanently in rural areas, both aerobic steps and total steps were at a lower level than those of men living permanently in the city.
The researchers also found that in women, employment reduced aerobic steps.
“Work provides a rhythm for the day and this can influence how, for example, it is possible to participate in various scheduled hobbies,” Salin says. “However, it should be noted that the change in total steps was not statistically significant among the employed, as the change in everyday steps was correspondingly positive for those who were employed.
The importance of physical activity for health is well known, but longer-term observations of how changes in life are related to physical activity have so far relied only on self-reported exercise.
Air pollution poses risk to thinking skills in later life
A greater exposure to air pollution at the very start of life was associated with a detrimental effect on people’s cognitive skills up to 60 years later, the research found.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh tested the general intelligence of more than 500 people aged approximately 70 years using a test they had all completed at the age of 11 years.
The participants then repeated the same test at the ages of 76 and 79 years.
A record of where each person had lived throughout their life was used to estimate the level of air pollution they had experienced in their early years.
The team used statistical models to analyse the relationship between a person’s exposure to air pollution and their thinking skills in later life.
They also considered lifestyle factors, such as socio-economic status and smoking.
Findings showed exposure to air pollution in childhood had a small but detectable association with worse cognitive change between the ages of 11 and 70 years.
This study shows it is possible to estimate historical air pollution and explore how this relates to cognitive ability throughout life, researchers say.
Dr Tom Russ, Director of the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh, said: “For the first time we have shown the effect that exposure to air pollution very early in life could have on the brain many decades later. This is the first step towards understanding the harmful effects of air pollution on the brain and could help reduce the risk of dementia for future generations.”
Researchers say until now it has not been possible to explore the impact of early exposure to air pollution on thinking skills in later life because of a lack of data on air pollution levels before the 1990s when routine monitoring began.
For this study researchers used a model called the EMEP4UK atmospheric chemistry transport model to determine pollution levels — known as historical fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations — for the years 1935, 1950, 1970, 1980, and 1990. They combined these historical findings with contemporary modelled data from 2001 to estimate life course exposure
The participants were part of the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 study, a group of individuals who were born in 1936 and took part in the Scottish Mental Survey of 1947.
Since 1999, researchers have been working with the Lothian Birth Cohorts to chart how a person’s thinking power changes over their lifetime.