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How to Make (and Keep) Your New Year's Resolutions

At the start of every year, many of us find ourselves wondering how to keep the New Year's resolutions we've set for ourselves. It's a well-known joke that the gym crowds surge in January, only to thin back out by mid-February. Sometimes, it almost seems like resolutions are just meant to be broken. But trust us, resolutions are good, productive ways to set goals and intentions for the new year. Deciding to make positive changes, like ditching a bad habit and adopting a healthier one, is always a good idea—one you should see through to the end.


Often, what we don't realize is that the problem isn't that we aren't capable of sticking to our resolutions—it's that we need to do a better job making resolutions that are actionable and achievable. Otherwise, it's almost like setting yourself up to fall short.


"Change is hard. We are creatures of habit," June Kloubec, Ph.D., a professor in the department of nutrition and exercise science at Bastyr University, tells SELF. "Unless you are very motivated, have good social support, and have the right environment, it is difficult to make lasting behavior changes." Experts like Kloubec, who work with people to get past barriers and make lasting changes, know that the kinds of things that can hold people back from reaching their goals may crop up before they've even attempted to change a thing.


If you want to set yourself up for the best chance of success, start with these smart tips for making better resolutions you can actually stick to.


1. Make smaller resolutions.


You think: "I'm going to spend less, work out more, and get promoted." All great aspirations, but creating a resolution that's too big sets you up for failure. The first key to success is zeroing in on one goal, not three. Then do a quick reality check. "Look at the level of commitment it will require to achieve, and consider if you'll be able to match it," Larry Kubiak, Ph.D., director of psychological services at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, tells SELF. Are you really going to be able to swear off chocolate completely? Unlikely. Limiting your Hershey's Kisses eating to a few times a week would be much more achievable.


2. Get specific with your goals.


“Save money” is another good goal. But how? And how much? Without some definable parameters, your best intentions can get lost in the shuffle. "The more detailed you can be—'I'm going to save $30 a week by eating out one fewer meal'—the [easier] it is to stay focused on what you have to do to succeed," Kubiak says. Setting small, specific goals also keeps you encouraged along the way—each time you meet one, you have reason to celebrate your progress.


3. Write down your goals.


People who write down their goals feel a greater sense of accountability and have a much higher chance of accomplishing them, Elizabeth Ward, Ph.D., psychologist and performance coach and consultant in Boston, tells SELF. Post your goals on your fridge, write them in dry-erase marker on the bathroom mirror, or write them down in a journal. Journaling can also help you reflect on your progress, Kloubec says. "Honest reflection can help you to see how you may be sabotaging yourself or to recognize patterns of behavior."


4. Make your resolutions public.


We're more likely to achieve our resolutions when we make them public. "Sharing our goals holds us accountable, so it's harder to back out," John Norcross, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Scranton, tells SELF. While sharing with your journal and bathroom mirror help, too, they don't count as "other people." Tell your best friend about your New Year's resolution, and check in with her on the reg to chat about it and make sure you're on track. Better yet, get her on board so you're both working toward the same goal.


5. Plan your followthrough.


Your resolution should never just be another item on your to-do list. At first, your goal was new and exciting, so you were inspired to make time for it; three weeks in, the novelty may wear off, Emanuel Maidenberg, Ph.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California in Los Angeles, tells SELF. "If each morning you have to find a way to make your goal happen, you're more likely to decide based on whether you feel like doing it, which we rarely do," Maidenberg says. Plot out a monthly budget or schedule a week's worth of workouts each Sunday so you don't have to think about how to fit it all in. And attach your goal to another activity. For instance, if you want to meditate more, plan a nightly session for right after brushing your teeth.


6. Check in with yourself regularly.


Reassessing your goal throughout the weeks and months it takes to get there is essential. Once you start making changes, you may find your original goal was a little unrealistic. Instead of sticking with it once you find it's probably not possible, feel free to tweak the goal as you see fit. "I would encourage people to, even after a month, reevaluate their goals," Ward says. Look at your lifestyle and revise your goals to make sure they really work fit in, she suggests. "Then share with the person that you’re sharing accountability with, or write it down."


7. Celebrate small successes.


If your focus is just on the endgame, it's easy to feel discouraged when progress plateaus around the one-month mark, Kubiak says. That's why it's crucial to recognize and reward the smaller successes along the way. Rather than waiting until you've shed all 10 pounds, give yourself a mini "Yay, me!" celebration each time you drop 2. If your goal is to run a half marathon, don't save the party for the finish line. After each long run, reward yourself with a good book, new music, or a night out with friends. To help you track important milestones and stay motivated along the way, use your journal.


8. Remember that it's OK to slip up (then get back on track!). I


If you've faltered, know that you're in good company: "Having a lapse is common. In fact, 75 percent of resolution makers slip up within the first two months," Norcross says. What really matters is how you handle it; there are those who spend several days feeling guilty over their misstep, and then those who acknowledge the screwup but get right back on track. Guess which group is more likely to succeed? "One setback shouldn't undo all your efforts. Instead of stewing, figure out how to prevent it from happening again," Norcross says. Blew this week's savings on boots from Zappos? (We get it: free shipping.) Find a way to recoup what you spent: At Zappos, returns are free, too!


9. Don't rely on others to get you where you're going.


Asking people for support is smart, but to make your resolution stick, now is the time to learn how to be your own cheerleader. In fact, relying too heavily on a pal or family member to get you to do something can actually decrease your motivation to work toward your goals, a study in Psychological Science found. Your boyfriend might be great at getting you out of bed for your morning jog, but what happens when he's out of town? Without any motivation to hit the treadmill on your own, you and the snooze button will become BFFs. To remind yourself why this goal is important to you, write little notes and post them where you'll see them—your desk, the mirror, and that snooze button.

8 Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating


Research studies show that most adults gain some weight over the holidays. But don’t despair — this year can be different! Here are some great ways to enjoy the holidays without adding pounds. View our infographic and read about the tips in detail below.


1. Get moving Check with your doctor first, of course. But one of the most effective ways to maintain or lose body weight is to engage in regular, sustained aerobic activity. To burn off those extra calories, kick up your exercise. If you exercise for 30 minutes a day, increase it to 45 minutes. If you exercise three times a week, move it up to five times a week, and increase the intensity of your workout.


2. Cheat a little, but only once a day Allow yourself one small serving of a cookie or piece of candy each day during the holiday season. Remember that you may have to compensate for it later in the day by reducing your total caloric intake or by burning a few extra calories while exercising.


3. Control the risk for temptation Controlling even the slightest chance of coming in contact with “tempting” foods is one way to effectively reduce your calorie intake. While you won’t be able to control all situations, focus on the many you can. For example, do you keep candy or cookies at your desk or workspace? Are your holiday goodies stored in well-trafficked spots like the dining room or pantry? Make a mental note to keep goodies in places that are less accessible. If you bake, keep a small amount for you and your family, then give the rest away. And if you get food as a gift, either regift it, donate it or share it with others.


4. Eat your veggies and fruits Eating seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day is a great way to help fill your stomach without exceeding your calorie count. Compared gram for gram with other snack foods (like chips, crackers and cookies), fruits and vegetables contain fewer calories and tons more nutrients. What’s more, the fiber in fruits and vegetables will fill you up faster than traditional snack foods.


5. Never go to a party hungry Before you go to a holiday party, eat a healthy snack such as a serving of your favorite fruit, fat-free yogurt or a handful of raw nuts. When you arrive at the party, do not rush mindlessly to the food table to fill up on snacks. Instead, assess your hunger. Once you feel hungry, take a look at all the food that’s available. Becoming aware of all the options will help you make more mindful choices.


6. Be in charge of your party choices Make heart-healthy choices at parties. Bring a healthy appetizer (raw veggies or homemade whole-wheat pita chips with Greek yogurt or hummus dip, corn chips & guacamole or edamame) or dessert (fat-free pudding-based dessert or fruit crisp) so you know there will at least be one healthy choice. Use smaller plates to reduce the amount of food you eat. Avoid sauces made from cream, half-and-half or meat drippings and high-fat meats (meatballs, sausage, pigs-in-blankets, fried chicken wings.) And avoid drinking too many calories.


7. Say no politely Many times you feel forced to eat foods because people keep putting it in front of you. Learn to say no politely.


8. Focus on socializing, not food Don’t stand around the food table at a party. Get out and mingle. Conversation is calorie-free! Standing is still better than sitting (burns more cal

Want to Better Comply with Dietary Guidelines, and Save Money? Cook Dinner At Home

The best culinary paths to better health are not always paved with cash, new research shows, and cooking at home can provide the best bang-for-the-buck nutritionally as well as financially.


A study by Arpita Tiwari, a health systems researcher at Oregon State University, and collaborators at the University of Washington confirms what many mothers and grandmothers have said for decades: that habitually eating dinner at home means a better diet and lower food expenditures compared with regularly dining out.


"Traditionally better socioeconomic status -- more money -- means healthier people," Tiwari said. "That's the trend. This research goes against that; it shows a resilience to that trend. It's not spending more but how you spend that's important. What you eat is important."


"Cooking at home reduces that expenditure, and our research empirically quantifies that when we regularly eat dinner at home, our nutrition intake is better."


Tiwari is quick to point out, though, that researchers understand the barriers to home-cooked meals.


"A mother who has two jobs and four children, even if she knows the value of home-cooked dinners, doesn't have time to cook," Tiwari said. "Government policy needs to be mindful of things like that when states create programs to help Medicaid populations achieve nutritional goals. Right now our system really does not allow for it. What can the government do about that? That's what needs to be explored in the near future."


The research involved more than 400 Seattle-area adults who were surveyed regarding a week's worth of cooking and eating behaviors. Participants also provided various types of sociodemographic information, and their weekly food intake was graded using the Healthy Eating Index (HEI). HEI scores range from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating better diet quality. An index score over 81 indicates a "good" diet; 51 to 80 means "needs improvement"; and 50 or less is "poor."


Households that cooked at home three times per week showed an average score of about 67 on the Healthy Eating Index; cooking at home six times per week resulted in an average score of around 74. "


Higher HEI scores are generally associated with higher socioeconomic status, education and income," Tiwari said. "By contrast, cooking dinner at home depends more on the number of children at home. The study showed no association between income or education and eating at home or eating out."


The findings also suggested that regularly eating home-cooked dinners, associated with diets lower in calories, sugar and fat, meant meeting more of the guidelines for a healthy diet as determined by the Department of Agriculture.


Eighty percent of U.S. residents fail to meet at least some of the federal dietary guidelines, the study notes, and about half the money spent on eating in the U.S. is on food not cooked at home. From the 1970s to the late 1990s, the percentage of home-cooked calories consumed fell from 82 to 68.


"HMOs should have ancillary programs to really encourage people to eat healthier," Tiwari said. "It's a benefit for insurance companies to get involved; eating is really the source of most of the issues that the insurance system has to deal with down the road."

Why Exercise May Be More Important than Body Fat

Keeping body fat in check and getting plenty of exercise are both proven ways to improve health. But the latter may help you recover faster after a stroke, a new study suggests.


The new research, published online in the journal Neurology, found that people who exercised vigorously-defined here as playing sports, doing heavy housework or working a job that requires physical labor-at least three times a week were more likely to be independent both before and after having a stroke, compared to people who exercised less.


No similar pattern was seen for body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat based on height in relation to weight. "If people were obese or overweight, it didn't really tell us much about how they'd do after a stroke," says lead author Pamela Rist, an associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital.


The study followed more than 18,000 adults ages 50 and older for an average of 12 years. Every other year, people were interviewed about their height, weight and whether they exercised regularly, as well as their ability to perform basic self-care and household functions.


No one had ever had a stroke before the study began, but 1,374 people experienced one (and survived) throughout the study period.


Three years after their strokes, survivors who had been less active at the start of the study were 18% less likely to be able to do basic self-care functions like bathing, eating and getting in and out of bed compared to those who had been regular exercisers. "If you're physically active beforehand, it may improve your ability to do those physically demanding acts as you recover," says Rist.


Those who hadn't exercised three times a week were also 16% less likely to be able to do more complex activities, such as managing money and grocery shopping, three years after their strokes. "These tasks are more cognitively demanding," says Rist. "One of our hypotheses is that maybe physical activity helps you maintain cognitive functioning, in addition to physical functioning, after a stroke."


The study can't prove that exercise is responsible for these effects, and the researchers found no evidence that physical activity actually slowed the rate of functional decline. Researchers saw differences in the independence levels of people who exercised, versus those who did not, three years before people's strokes occurred. Some people may have had disabilities at the start of the study that prevented them from being active, they note.


And while being obese did raise a person's risk of having a stroke in the first place, getting too little physical activity did not. About 45% of people who did not have a stroke were regular exercisers, but so were 43% of those who had a stroke and survived. However, only 26% of the people who had a stroke and died were physically active on a regular basis.


The results suggest that people should be paying "at least as much attention" to their exercise habits as they do to their weight, Rist says. "You certainly shouldn't ignore your weight, but in this case it does seem like physical activity is a bigger indicator of how well you may recover if a stroke does happen," she says.

Is Soda Bad for Your Brain? (And is Diet Soda Worse?)

Both sugary, diet drinks correlated with accelerated brain aging

Americans love sugar. Together we consumed nearly 11 million metric tons of it in 2016, according to the US Department of Agriculture, much of it in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages like sports drinks and soda.

Now, new research suggests that excess sugar -- especially the fructose in sugary drinks -- might damage your brain. Researchers using data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) found that people who drink sugary beverages frequently are more likely to have poorer memory, smaller overall brain volume, and a significantly smaller hippocampus -- an area of the brain important for learning and memory.
But before you chuck your sweet tea and reach for a diet soda, there's more: a follow-up study found that people who drank diet soda daily were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia when compared to those who did not.
Researchers are quick to point out that these findings, which appear separately in the journals Alzheimer's & Dementia and Stroke, demonstrate correlation but not cause-and-effect. While researchers caution against over-consuming either diet soda or sugary drinks, more research is needed to determine how -- or if -- these drinks actually damage the brain, and how much damage may be caused by underlying vascular disease or diabetes.
"These studies are not the be-all and end-all, but it's strong data and a very strong suggestion," says Sudha Seshadri, a professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine (MED) and a faculty member at BU's Alzheimer's Disease Center, who is senior author on both papers. "It looks like there is not very much of an upside to having sugary drinks, and substituting the sugar with artificial sweeteners doesn't seem to help."
"Maybe good old-fashioned water is something we need to get used to," she adds.
Matthew Pase, a fellow in the MED neurology department and an investigator at the FHS who is corresponding author on both papers, says that excess sugar has long been associated with cardiovascular and metabolic diseases like obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, but little is known about its long-term effects on the human brain. He chose to study sugary drinks as a way of examining overall sugar consumption. "It's difficult to measure overall sugar intake in the diet," he says, "so we used sugary beverages as a proxy."
For the first study, published in Alzheimer's & Dementia on March 5, 2017, researchers examined data, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and cognitive testing results, from about 4,000 people enrolled in the Framingham Heart Study's Offspring and Third-Generation cohorts. (These are the children and grandchildren of the original FHS volunteers enrolled in 1948.) The researchers looked at people who consumed more than two sugary drinks a day of any type -- soda, fruit juice, and other soft drinks -- or more than three per week of soda alone. Among that "high intake" group, they found multiple signs of accelerated brain aging, including smaller overall brain volume, poorer episodic memory, and a shrunken hippocampus, all risk factors for early-stage Alzheimer's disease. Researchers also found that higher intake of diet soda -- at least one per day -- was associated with smaller brain volume.
In the second study, published in Stroke on April 20, 2017, the researchers, using data only from the older Offspring cohort, looked specifically at whether participants had suffered a stroke or been diagnosed with dementia due to Alzheimer's disease. After measuring volunteers' beverage intake at three points over seven years, the researchers then monitored the volunteers for 10 years, looking for evidence of stroke in 2,888 people over age 45, and dementia in 1,484 participants over age 60. Here they found, surprisingly, no correlation between sugary beverage intake and stroke or dementia. However, they found that people who drank at least one diet soda per day were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia.
Although the researchers took age, smoking, diet quality, and other factors into account, they could not completely control for preexisting conditions like diabetes, which may have developed over the course of the study and is a known risk factor for dementia. Diabetics, as a group, drink more diet soda on average, as a way to limit their sugar consumption, and some of the correlation between diet soda intake and dementia may be due to diabetes, as well as other vascular risk factors. However, such preexisting conditions cannot wholly explain the new findings.
"It was somewhat surprising that diet soda consumption led to these outcomes," says Pase, noting that while prior studies have linked diet soda intake to stroke risk, the link with dementia was not previously known. He adds that the studies did not differentiate between types of artificial sweeteners and did not account for other possible sources of artificial sweeteners. He says that scientists have put forth various hypotheses about how artificial sweeteners may cause harm, from transforming gut bacteria to altering the brain's perception of "sweet," but "we need more work to figure out the underlying mechanisms."

Biking to Work Could Keep You Alive Longer, Study Says

If you cycle to work, you also might be increasing your chances of more cycles around the Earth. 


A new University of Glasgow study published Thursday in the BMJ found that biking to work was linked to a significantly decreased chance of dying from cancer, cardiovascular disease and all other causes. It also found that such activity was associated with a 45 percent decreased chance of getting cancer compared to those who didn't actively commute (i.e. using a car or public transportation), in addition to a 46 percent decreased heart disease risk. Walking to work was only linked to a lower cardiovascular disease risk.


Researchers assessed data on more than 264,000 people for the U.K. study, which asked them to note their usual mode of transportation to and from work. They could choose walking, cycling or the aforementioned non-active commute. Researchers then followed up through five years on average and kept a record of hospital admissions and deaths.


"Cycling all or part of the way to work was associated with substantially lower risk of adverse health outcomes," Jason Gill, one of the study authors, said in a statement. "Those who cycled the full length of their commute had an over 40 percent lower risk of heart disease, cancer and overall mortality over the 5 years of follow-up."


But why did cycling result in better benefits than just walking? It may have to do with distance.


"This may be because walkers commuted shorter distances than cyclists – typically 6 miles per week, compared with 30 miles per week – and walking is generally a lower intensity of exercise than cycling," study author Carlos A Celis-Morales said in a statement.


As for what this means going forward, Lars Bo Andersen, a professor at the Western Norwegian University of Applied Sciences, didn't mince words in an editorial published with the study.


"The findings from this study are a clear call for political action on active commuting, which has the potential to improve public health by preventing common (and costly) non-communicable diseases," Andersen wrote. "A shift from car to more active modes of travel will also decrease traffic in congested city centres and help reduce air pollution, with further benefits for health."


CNBC, citing information from the World Health Organization, says 30 to 50 percent of cancers might be preventable through practices such as consistent exercise and maintaining a healthy weight.

Trans Fat Bans Tied to Fewer Heart Attacks and Strokes

Laws that restrict adding trans fats to foods have had immediate beneficial effects on heart health, new research has found.

The Food and Drug Administration plans to restrict the use of trans fats in foods nationwide in 2018, but between 2007 and 2011, some counties in New York State, but not others, banned trans fatty acids in restaurants, bakeries, soup kitchens, park concessions and other public places where food is served. In a natural experiment to test the effect of the ban, researchers compared nine counties with trans fat restrictions to eight that had none.

Cardiovascular disease has been declining nationwide in recent years, but the decline was even steeper in counties where trans fats were banned. Three years after restrictions were imposed, there was an additional 6.2 percent decline in hospital admissions for heart attacks and strokes in counties that banned trans fats compared with those that did not. The study, in JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association) Cardiology, accounted for age and other demographic factors.

“The most important message from these data is that they confirm what we predicted — benefit in the reduction of heart attacks and strokes,” said the lead author, Dr. Eric J. Brandt, a fellow in cardiovascular medicine at Yale. “This is a well-planned and well-executed public policy.”

Hold That Pose: Yoga May Ease Tough Depression

The calming poses and meditation of yoga may be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to beating depression, new research suggests.
Researchers found that weekly sessions of yoga and deep breathing exercises helped ease symptoms of the common condition. They believe the practice may be an alternative or complementary therapy for tough-to-treat cases of depression.
The intervention seemed helpful for "people who are not on antidepressants and in those who have been on a stable dose of antidepressants [but] have not achieved a resolution of their symptoms," study lead author Dr. Chris Streeter said in a news release from Boston Medical Center. He's a psychiatrist at the hospital and an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University.
Major depression is common and often persistent and disabling, Streeters' team noted. Up to 40 percent of people taking medication for this form of depression won't see their depression go away, according to the researchers.
 However, prior studies have shown that the ancient practice of yoga may be of help.
"The mechanism of action is similar to other exercise techniques that activate the release of 'feel good' brain chemicals," explained Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who reviewed the new findings.
He added that exercise, especially yoga, may also "reduce immune system chemicals that can worsen depression."
Then there's yoga's meditative quality, as well, Manevitz said.
"It has been demonstrated that 'mindful' movement -- conscious awareness -- has a much more beneficial impact on the central nervous system," he said. But would this bear out in a rigorous study? To find out, Streeter's team tracked outcomes for 30 people with major depressive disorder. All were randomly assigned to partake in either a "high-dose" or "low-dose" yoga intervention. The high-dose group had three 90-minute yoga classes each week along with home practice, while the low-dose group engaged in two 90-minute yoga sessions each week in addition to home practice.
The participants practiced Ilyengar yoga, a method that focuses on detail, precision and alignment in posture and breath control.
The study found that both groups had significant reductions in their depression symptoms. Those who took three weekly yoga classes had fewer depressive symptoms than those in the "low-dose" group, but Streeter's team said even two classes a week was still very effective in improving people's mood.
Streeter noted that this intervention targets a different neurochemical pathway in the body than mood-altering medications, suggesting that yoga may provide a new, side effect-free avenue for treatment.
For his part, Manevitz called the study "practical and well-designed." He believes the findings support yoga as a treatment "that can help the millions of people suffering from major depressive disorders around the world."
Dr. Victor Fornari is a psychiatrist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y. He agreed that the new study "supports the use of yoga for the treatment of depression... Yoga, like regular exercise, is good for most people for health maintenance as well as to treat what ails them."

Exercise During Pregnancy Boosts a Newborn Baby’s Brain Capacity for Life: University of Montreal Study

Exercising during pregnancy changes the fetal brain in ways that may boost a newborn’s brain functioning for life, new Canadian research suggests.


In what is being described as the first study of its kind in humans, University of Montreal researchers found that the brains of babies born to women who exercised moderately throughout their pregnancies appeared to mature more rapidly. Eight-day-old newborns had brains as active as those of eight-month-olds. The findings suggest that 20 minutes of exercise, three times a week, enhances a baby’s brain development and its “plasticity,” meaning the ability to make new connections, according to research to be presented Monday at Neuroscience 2013, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, Calif. The team hopes the findings will encourage women “to change their health habits, given that the simple act of exercising during pregnancy could make a difference in their child’s future,” said lead author Dr. Dave Ellemberg, a professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Montreal. The study was motivated by experiments in rats, published by other researchers a decade ago, that suggested maternal exercise produces a higher density of neurons in the hippocampus of the fetal brain. Rat pups born to mothers who exercised on a running wheel performed far better at birth on tasks that require memory than pups born to sedentary mothers.


Ellemberg wondered: Could the phenomenon hold true for humans, too? For the study, 18 women in their second trimester of pregnancy were randomly assigned to an exercise group or a sedentary group. Ten women in the exercise group were asked to exercise a minimum of 20 minutes, three times a week, at a moderate intensity that would leave them feeling slightly short of breath. The eight women in the sedentary group were asked not to exercise. All the women had equal levels of education, socio-economic status and health habits. Eight to 12 days after the babies were born, researchers measured the activity of neurons related to memory. The babies were fitted with an electrode cap that measured and recorded their brain activity via an EEG, or electroencephalogram The researchers waited for the babies to fall asleep in their mothers’ laps, then measured their unconscious responses to high- and low-pitched sounds. Some of the sounds were repeated over and over, others were more rare.
‘We found that the babies who were born from the mothers who were active had a much more mature brain response’


“We found that the babies who were born from the mothers who were active had a much more mature brain response,” Ellemberg said. “The brain response corresponded to that of babies of six to eight months of age.” The researchers have begun testing the babies’ cognitive, motor and language development as they reach their first birthdays, to determine whether the differences remain.  

“It’s fascinating,” said Dr. Jon Barrett, a professor of obstetrics at the University of Toronto and head of maternal fetal medicine at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Barrett was not involved in the study.

It’s long been known that exercise in pregnancy is good for the mother, he said. Exercise lowers the risk of pregnancy-related high blood pressure and diabetes. Pregnancy tends to be easier, and labour shorter. “We also know now that what happens to the fetus (while) in the mother has longstanding implications for the baby’s health into adulthood,” said Barrett. For example, babies that don’t grow well in the womb have a higher risk of developing adult hypertension.

How a baby’s brain is affected by the mother’s exercise, or why, remains a mystery

It’s a concept known as fetal patterning. Researchers are studying babies, from the womb into adulthood, to see if they can find “patternings” that will affect the baby’s chances of developing diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and even cancer, as they grow older, Barrett said. “What we’re seeing here [in the Montreal study] is a little glimpse, a hint of how something like exercise can affect the neural patterning of the baby.” How it happens, or why, remains a mystery.

‘It’s as if the baby is also working out while his mom is working out’


When women exercise during pregnancy, the fetal heart rate also increases. “So, it’s as if the baby is also working out while his mom is working out,” Ellemberg said. That might increase oxygen levels to the baby’s brain, nourishing neurons and improving brain development. Exercise also increases levels of serotonin, dopamine and other neurotransmitters that are important for memory and attention, Ellemberg said.

In the absence of any health concerns, ‘pregnant women should go ahead and be active’


The study’s biggest limitation is its size, involving just 18 women. However, the early findings suggest that exercise during pregnancy might influence the “neuronal circuitry” of the developing fetal brain, Ellemberg said. Even today, “we hear some doctors warning their patients [pregnant women] not to exercise,” he said. But, in the absence of any health concerns, “women should go ahead and be active,” he said.

The Pros and Cons of Being a Weekend Warrior


You really meant to go for a morning run or two during the workweek, but just never got around to it. Or, let’s face it, maybe you didn’t plan out time to exercise during the busy week and, not surprisingly, that’s just how it worked out. You didn’t do cardio or strength training – morning, noon or night.

However, you do happen to have some available time most weekends, and you feel good after playing basketball with friends or getting in a few jaunts you couldn’t fit into the week. Still, you wonder, is being a weekend warrior only a moral victory, or will it really have a significant impact on your health?
That’s just the question a recent comprehensive study took up – at least as it relates to the effects of different physical activity patterns on mortality rates. Research published online in January in JAMA Internal Medicine analyzed surveys from 63,591 adult respondents in the UK and found that the risk of death from all causes was about 30 percent lower among active adults versus inactive adults. Weekend warriors who got in all their recommended exercise in one to two sessions saw a similar risk reduction compared with regular exercisers who met physical activity guidelines by exercising three or more times a week. “You benefit equivalently as someone who exercises more regularly,” says study co-author I-Min Lee, an associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Are You a Weekend Warrior?
Based on national data, about 2 to 4 percent of Americans exercise in this weekend warrior pattern, Lee says – doing at least either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity like brisk walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise like running, in one to two sessions. By definition, you needn’t work out on the weekend, per se – just squeeze it all in during no more than a couple sessions anytime through the week – to be considered a weekend warrior.