Exercise and Fitness

Do financial incentives really help people change their health behaviors?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My employer has started offering employees financial rewards for weight loss. I'm skeptical. Does this kind of financial incentive really work?

DEAR READER: Offering financial incentives to employees for making healthy lifestyle changes is increasingly common. These days, nearly 80 percent of large employers do it. There are many ways to offer incentives, and doctors and economists are still learning what works best.

Could dancing have more health benefits than standard exercise?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My gym offers several dance-themed exercise classes like Zumba. The brochure claims that dance may have more health benefits than standard exercise. Is that true?

DEAR READER: We dance to express joy, celebrate life events and as a form of exercise. It turns out that the combination of music and dance may have benefits beyond those of exercise alone.

What is the difference between strength training and power training?

DEAR DOCTOR K: What's the difference between strength and power training? Is one better than the other?

DEAR READER: Your muscles enable you to carry groceries, climb stairs, get out of a chair and swing a golf club. The stronger and more powerful your muscles are, the easier all of these everyday tasks and others will be. But weak muscles turn seemingly simple tasks, like walking, into a chore. They are a primary reason why many people lose their independence as they age.

Why am I losing muscle as I age?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm in my 60s. Despite exercising regularly, I have been losing muscle as I get older. Why does this happen, and is there anything I can do about it?

DEAR READER: As the years pass, muscle mass generally shrinks and strength declines. It happens to all of us as we age --- even Arnold Schwarzenegger. The key to slowing this process is strength and power training.

Can teens help prevent diabetes through exercise?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My teenage son doesn't like sports or exercise. Diabetes runs in our family. You say exercise protects against diabetes and is valuable even in young adults. Can you give me some ammunition to convince my teenager to exercise?

DEAR READER: Perfect timing: A new study has been published that provides an answer. Most studies of exercise have been in adults, often older adults. Until this recent study, there wasn't a lot of information about teenagers.

How does physical exercise improve brain health?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You say that physical exercise helps to improve brain health, but it's not obvious to me how that could be. Do researchers understand exactly how exercise helps the brain?

DEAR READER: I understand why that's puzzling. It's easier to see how regular moderate exercise could protect against heart disease, for example. The heart is a muscle, and exercise makes the heart exercise.

Is jogging or brisk walking better for my health?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a 42-year-old couch potato. Gentle pressure from my wife and doctor have "convinced" me to start exercising regularly. What's better for my health: jogging or brisk walking?

DEAR READER: If you're a couch potato, you're in the majority. A recent study found that nearly 60 percent of adults in the United States do not get enough exercise.

Will weight training help reduce diabetes risk?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a family history of diabetes, and I'd like to do what I can to reduce my risk. My doctor says aerobic exercise will help, but I prefer weight training. Could that help too?

DEAR READER: Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, helps to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes, which is by far the more common type of diabetes. So I assume that's the type that runs in your family.

Is exercise good for the brain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I do both aerobic exercises and resistance (strength) training exercises. Recently I heard that aerobic exercise might be better for the brain. Is there any truth to that?

DEAR READER: You probably are referring to a study published in February 2016 that got a lot of media attention. Before getting into the details of that study, it's worth talking more about exercise and the brain.

Can children benefit from yoga?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My 8-year-old daughter has expressed an interest in taking a yoga class, but I don't want to waste my money. Can children really benefit from yoga?

DEAR READER: Yes, they can. I spoke to Dr. Marlynn Wei, who is a psychiatrist, certified yoga teacher, and author of the upcoming Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga. She noted that yoga and mindfulness (a related practice) have been shown to improve both physical and mental health in children.