Exercise — it's good for the brain

If you're still looking for reasons to get off the couch and get active, this study out of the Medical College of Georgia might get you thinking.

Researchers found that overweight children lowered their risk of diabetes and improved their ability to think after just three months of daily, vigorous activity. They studied 200 overweight kids and taught them about the benefits of healthy nutrition and the benefits of physical activity. The kids were split into groups that exercised for either 20 or 40 minutes, getting their heart rates up to 79 per cent of maximum.

While that's not chest-pounding, gasping for every last bit of air exertion, it is pretty strenuous. Like how you might feel after a shift of fairly intense pick-up hockey.

The lead investigator — Dr. Catherine Davis — said while exercise alone did not make the children lean and healthy, they did have "less fat, a healthier metabolism and an improved ability to handle life."

MRIs of the brains of some of the children who exercised showed different patterns of brain activity during an "executive function task."

Well, that's good. Because most of the news on the overweight/obesity front isn't good. Another study of 168,000 people in 63 countries — published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association — found that 40 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women around the world are overweight, while 24 per cent of men and 27 per cent of women are obese.

The study found that excess body fat — especially abdominal fat, which greatly increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes — is a global problem and threatens to overwhelm healthcare services in many countries.

And why the global pandemic? Maybe it's our love affair with cheap calories.

Yet another study suggests that Americans don't think much of healthy food. The Temple University study found that people are more likely to consider healthy food bland tasting and are less willing to pay more for healthy dishes. It also found that dining out greatly increases your chances of becoming obese.

Not surprisingly, the body mass index (BMI) of people eating three to six meals a week at fast food restaurants was significantly greater than the BMI of people who consumed one or two fast food meals a week. In 2006, the average American reported eating out five times a week — mostly at fast food restaurants.

And it's no wonder. Making my way to work yesterday morning through downtown Toronto's underground maze, I was struck by take-out places offering up everything from wonderfully-smelling cinnamon buns to any large slice of pizza and a tub of sugar-laden carbonated beverage (one that I do profess a weakness for) at a super-low price. And if that's not enough there was the candy store boasting "we satisfy your cravings."

It's almost like they're saying resistance is futile. Exercise more and maybe we can clear our minds a little and help think our way out of obesity — or at least resist temptation a little longer.