World Health Day: Depression-Let’s talk exercise!

This year the topic for the World Health Day  is depression. World Health Day is arranged by the World Health Organization (WHO) every year and this year the goal is to increase  and to lower the threshold for people to talk about it. Depression is characterized by both physical symptoms like pain and fatigue, and psychological symptoms like persistent sad mood and loss of interest in doing tasks one normally enjoys, which leads to decreased ability to perform everyday tasks. Other depressive symptoms are loss of energy, change in appetite and sleep patterns, anxiety, reduced concentration, feelings of being worthless and suicidal thoughts. Depression affects men and women of all ages and nationalities. Adolescents and young adults, women of childbearing age (particularly following childbirth) and adults over 60 years of age are of particular interest in this year’s WHO campaign. Depression is one of the most common mental health diseases in Norway, and it is estimated that 20% of the Norwegian population will experience a depressive episode during life.

Although there is increasing emphasis on mental health today, less than half of those suffering from depression seek treatment. Lack of resources and/or medical personnel, and stigma associated with mental disorders are the most common reasons why depressed individuals do not seek help. There are several methods of prevention and treatment for depression. The most common treatments in Norway today are psychological counselling and antidepressants. The latter treatment is often associated with unfortunate side effects and efforts to find more suitable non-drug methods of treatment and prevention have intensified. Accumulating evidence indicates that regular physical activity can contribute to improve one’s self-esteem and increase positive social interaction, which in turn can prevent future depressive episodes and treat current depression. Last year, two interesting articles were published underlining the importance of exercise and fitness as essential and effective strategies for preventing and treating depression. They found a meaningful link between depression, exercise, and fitness. It has also been shown that those who are physically active are at lower risk of developing depression after having experienced a heart attack, when compared to the physically inactive who have experienced the same.

There is a reason why the WHO has named this year’s World Health Day “Depression – Let’s talk” day. It is crucial that mental illness be taken seriously, and to make room for openly talking about depression, on a par with physical illness. This will contribute to more people getting treatment and being able to function normally in their everyday lives.

Ekaterina Zotcheva and Trude Carlsen


Sitting too much: Try some PAI

When we are in a reclined position (e.g. sitting or lying down) and our energy expenditure does not exceed 1.5 metabolic equivalents of task (METs; 1 MET = 3.5 ml/kg/min), we are said to be sedentary. On average, we spend 50–60% of our day sedentary and as we get older we tend to become even more sedentary. Continue reading

World’s healthiest hearts found in Bolivia: What can we learn from that?

Recent research published in the Lancet has identified world’s healthiest hearts in Tsimane, indigenous people of Bolivia. Tsimenes, live in huts, with no running water or electricity and without all the conveniences of the modern society. And yet, they do not appear to  develop heart disease, even as they age.

Continue reading

Exercise as an alternative treatment for chronic insomnia

Insomnia is characterized by difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, waking-up too early and daytime function impairment. Its prevalence ranges from 10% to 40%, and various medications are used to treat insomnia. However, side effects are common. Non-pharmacological interventions with some efficacy may be useful, and include sleep hygiene advice (e.g., set a regular bedtime, limit alcohol and caffeine, and increase daylight exposure), cognitive–behavioral therapy and exercise. The British Journal of Sport Medicine recently published a systematic review aimed to determine whether aerobic- or resistance-training program improves sleep quality in middle-aged and older adults with sleep problems.


The review confirmed that exercise improves subjective sleep quality. The magnitude of the effect compared with that of hypnotic pharmacotherapy is difficult to gauge. However, tailored exercise may be a safe and effective alternative to such medications. This is particularly important given the side-effect profiles of hypnotic and sedative medications in older adults. With documented efficacy, one should consider exercise as an alternative or adjunctive treatment for older adults with poor sleep quality.

Øivind Rognmo, researcher with CERG

The Rise in Dementia Diagnosis

A study published in the Lancet suggests that the number of people diagnosed with dementia has doubled over the 10 years (between the year 2005 and the year 2015).

University of Manchester researchers found 0.82% people diagnosed with dementia in 2015, compared with 0.42% in 2005. In addition, the proportion of those who received medications for dementia have increased from 15% to 36.3%.


In Norway, it is estimated that about 1.5% of the entire population suffers from dementia, and almost every fifth person will develop dementia during their lifetime. As dementia is age-dependent and its prevalence rises sharply with increasing age, the current estimates show that the number of people with dementia will rise even further as a result of an ageing population.

By studying around 9 million patients, the researcher from University of Manchester found a steady increase in the dementia diagnosis regardless of age, although, the proportional increase in the rate of diagnosis was higher in older patients. The authors of the study attributed this rise in the dementia diagnosis to ageing population, increased clinical awareness, and implementation of national policies and guidelines.

Majority of the known risk factors for dementia are the same as for the heart disease. Therefore, primary prevention of heart disease would probably also protect against dementia. The most common interventions to reduce incidence of heart disease include less smoking, increased physical activity, and a healthy diet.

Javaid Nauman, Researcher at CERG

Study shows that walking for exercise improves quality of life in people with cancer

We all know someone who has been afflicted with cancer. In fact some 14 million people discover that they have cancer every year and more than half die from the disease.

Quality of life is particularly affected in people with advanced cancer, but research shows that exercise can play an important part and confer significant health benefits in people afflicted with cancer. Yet physical activity in cancer patients is very often low during and after treatment. Evidence shows that improving physical activity participation in people with cancer can positively affect quality of life. However, interventions targeting increased physical activity in this patient population often require supervision and attendance at specialist facilities.


Walking is an inexpensive form of physical activity which has been shown to improve quality of life. It is a feasible form of physical activity which can be performed alone or in groups and requires no supervision or specialized facilities. However, the effect of walking on quality of life in people with metastatic cancer has not been explored .

Researchers from the UK investigated the effect of walking on quality of life and symptoms in patients with advanced cancer.   They recruited 42 patients with advanced cancer and split them into two groups: the standard care group and the intervention group. The intervention group received a short motivational interview, was encouraged to walk 30 minutes every other day and could participate in weekly volunteer led walks.

The intervention group participants reported improvements in quality of life and many participants reported that walking improved the attitude toward their illness and encouraged social participation. This is very good information as it shows that exercise in the form of walking can be suitable and beneficial for people living with cancer.

Nina Zisko, PhD student at CERG

Stair climb to fitness

Fitness is a reflection of our lifestyle. It is then no surprise that studies show that fitness is a strong predictor of heart disease and death.  However, we can modify our fitness and epidemiological studies show that even small increases in fitness reduce the risk of heart disease and premature death.

High intensity exercise seems to be the best way to improve fitness.  However, most people cite lack of time as a barrier to exercise.  However, studies show that you do not need a large time commitment to see fitness gains.  No equipment?  Also no problem. You can use your local stairs!pixabay_steps-1081909_1280

A recently published study tested the effect of different 10 minute training protocols (including a warm up and cool down period) involving climbing of stairs, performed 3x per week for 6 weeks, on fitness in 31 sedentary but otherwise healthy women. The study found that stair climbing using either 3×20 seconds interspersed with 2 minute recovery or 3×60 seconds interspersed with 60 seconds of recovery improved fitness after 6 weeks.

So if you are pressed for time and lack equipment, hit the local stairs.  A half an hour weekly commitment could get you fit just in time for the spring.

Nina Zisko, PhD student at CERG