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Exposure to air pollution linked to increase in sedentary time

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Long-term exposure to current levels of UK air pollution is associated with an annual increase of up to 22 minutes of sedentary time each day, a study published in the Journal of Public Health has found.

Researchers based at the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) discovered the trend in what is thought to be the first study of its kind to closely examine the relationship between the levels of background pollution people are regularly exposed to in the UK environment, and their levels of physical activity and sedentary behaviour.

Sedentary behaviour is the amount of time spent lying, reclining, sitting or standing still, with higher levels of sedentary behaviour known to be linked to poorer health including heart disease, several types of cancer and an earlier death.

Dr Jonathan Goldney from the University of Leicester said: “We know that air pollution is associated with cardiometabolic and respiratory diseases, and in 2019 the World Health Organization estimated that 99 per cent of the global population breathe air containing high levels of pollutants.

“Levels of air pollution may affect people’s ability to exercise, or their enjoyment of exercise.

“It may also be considered a risk factor for increasing levels of sedentary behaviour by encouraging sitting time indoors and discouraging active time outdoors, further increasing the risk of chronic disease in a feedback loop.”

In the study, the team took a close look at observations made on 644 people at risk of type 2 diabetes taking part in the ‘Walking Away from type 2 diabetes’ behavioural intervention, which aimed to increase physical activity through walking.

Dr Goldney said: “The participants in the study wore accelerometers around their waists for seven consecutive days during waking hours.

“This gave us their daily minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and sedentary time on three occasions over a three year period – and an incredible opportunity to look for any long term trends.”

Annual average levels of the most measured air pollutants in health research from the year the participants entered the study and the preceding two years were then compared to the annual change in accelerometer-measured sedentary time.

After taking into account important factors like social deprivation and measures of the built environment, the associations between long-term particulate matter with diameter less than or equal to 2.5 μm (micrometres), 10 μm, and nitrogen dioxide and annual change in accelerometer measured sedentary time and physical activity were analysed.

Dr Goldney said: “Although the levels of pollutants we measured were not associated with a change in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity or number of steps taken, we found that they were associated with an annual increase in sedentary time.

“An increase of 1 μgm−3 in the average concentration of atmospheric nitrogen dioxide was associated with an increase in sedentary time of 1.52 minutes per day per year in the most conservative model.

“And across the group, our findings suggest that high levels of exposure to nitrogen dioxide were associated with up to 22 minutes per day of increased sedentary time per year.

“We observed this association regardless of how concentrations of pollutants were measured, including as a three-year average (year of start of observation with the two preceding years), or as the average pollutant concentration during the 12-month observation period.”

The researcher concluded: “If levels of air pollution are causing this increase in sedentary time, interventions to reduce ambient air pollution concentration such as low emissions zones could have a really positive impact on individual’s levels of sedentary behaviour and a significant effect on public health.”

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Tai chi outperforms conventional exercise for seniors

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New findings from 12 studies involving 2,901 participants have demonstrated that tai chi outperforms conventional exercise in improving mobility and balance in seniors.

While tai chi is understood to be beneficial for functional mobility and balance in older adults, such benefits are not well understood due to large variance in research study protocols and observations.

This new review and analysis has now shown that tai chi can induce greater improvement in functional mobility and balance in relatively healthy older adults compared to conventional exercise.

The findings showed the following performance results:

  • The time to complete 50-foot walking was 1.84 seconds faster. 
  • The time to maintain a one-leg stance was 6 seconds longer when eyes were open and 1.65 seconds longer when eyes were closed. 
  • Individuals improved their timed-up-and-go test performance by 0.18 points, indicating quicker standing, walking, and sitting.
  • Individuals taking the functional reach test showed significant improvement with a standardised mean difference of 0.7, suggesting a noteworthy positive impact on the ability to reach and perform daily activities.

Secondary analyses revealed that the use of tai chi with relatively short duration of less than 20 weeks, low total time of less than 24 total hours, and/or focusing on the Yang-style of this ancient form of Chinese martial arts were particularly beneficial for functional mobility and balance as compared to conventional exercise.

“This systematic literature review and meta-analysis are exciting because they provide strong evidence that tai chi is a more efficient strategy to improve functional mobility and balance in relatively healthy older adults, as compared to conventional exercise,” said Brad Manor, Ph.D., director of the Mobility and Falls Program at Hebrew SeniorLife’s Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research, and associate professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

“This research suggests that tai chi should be carefully considered in future studies and routines of rehabilitative programs for balance and mobility in older adults,” said Bao Dapeng, professor at Beijing Sport University.

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New standards for biomarkers of ageing

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A paper has put forward a new framework for standardising the development and validation of biomarkers of ageing to better predict longevity and quality of life.

Led by Harvard researchers, the team has zeroed in on biomarkers of ageing using omic data from population-based studies. 

The team included ageing and longevity expert Alex Zhavoronkov, PhD, founder and CEO of AI-driven drug discovery company Insilico Medicine, and the findings appeared in Nature Medicine

Ageing is associated with a number of biological changes including increased molecular and cellular damage, however, researchers do not yet have a standardised means to evaluate and validate biomarkers related to ageing. 

In order to create those standards as well as actionable clinical tools, the team analysed population-based cohort studies built on omic data (data related to biological molecules which can include proteomics, transcriptomics, genomics, and epigenomics) of blood-based biomarkers of ageing. The researchers then compared the predictive strength of different biomarkers, including study design and data collection approaches, and looked at how these biomarkers presented in different populations. 

In order to better assess the impact of ageing using biomarkers, the researchers found that clinicians needed to expand their focus to consider not only mortality as an outcome, but also how biomarkers of aging are associated with numerous other health outcomes, including functional decline, frailty, chronic disease, and disability. They also call for the standardisation of omic data to improve reliability. 

“Omics and biomarkers harmonisation efforts, such as the Biolearn project, are instrumental in validation of biomarkers of aging” said co-first author Mahdi Moqri, PhD, of the Division of Genetics. 

Biolearn is an open-source project for biomarkers of aging and is helping to harmonise existing ageing biomarkers, unify public datasets, and provide computational methodologies.

The team also emphasised the importance of continued collaborations among research groups on “large-scale, longitudinal studies that can track long-term physiological changes and responses to therapeutics in diverse populations”, and that further work is required to understand how implementation of biomarker evaluation in clinical trials might improve patient quality of life and survival.

“If we hope to have clinical trials for interventions that extend healthy lifespan in humans, we need reliable, validated biomarkers of ageing,” said co-first author Jesse Poganik, PhD, of the Division of Genetics. 

“We hope that our framework will help prioritise the most promising biomarkers and provide health care providers with clinically valuable and actionable tools.”

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Healthy aging research to receive $115 million

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Global non-profit Hevolution Foundation has announced $115 million in funding that makes up 49 new awards under its Geroscience Research Opportunities (HF-GRO) programme.  

As part of Hevolution’s mission to catalyse the healthspan scientific ecosystem and drive transformative breakthroughs in healthy aging, HF-GRO is funding promising pre-clinical research in aging biology and geroscience. 

Through this first wave of HF-GRO awards, Hevolution will invest up to $115 million in this first cohort of 49 selected projects over the next five years. Its second call for proposals under HF-GRO will be announced later this year, offering an additional $115 million to address the significant funding gaps in aging research.  

Dr. Felipe Sierra, Hevolution’s Chief Scientific Officer stated: “These 49 important research projects represent a significant step forward in deepening our understanding of healthy aging. Hevolution’s prime objective is to mobilise greater investment around uncovering the foundational mechanisms behind biological aging. 

“We are steadfast in our belief that by examining the root causes of aging, rather than solely focusing on its associated diseases, we can usher in a brighter future for humanity.” 

HF-GRO awardees include researchers at prestigious institutions across the United States, Canada, and Europe, including the U.S. National Institute on Aging, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Buck Institute, the Mayo Clinic, New York University, and the University of California San Francisco, among many others. 

The American Federation for Aging Research is providing programmatic support for the HF-GRO program, with grantees selected through a rigorous two-stage peer-review process involving 100 experts in aging biology and geroscience. 

Dr Berenice Benayoun, an HF-GRO grant recipient at the University of Southern California, stated: “I am extremely honored and excited that Hevolution selected our project for funding. This is a project close to my heart, which aims at understanding why and how the female and male innate immune aging differs. 

“This funding will support us as we start laying the foundation for a lasting improvement of women’s health throughout aging.” 

To date, Hevolution has committed approximately $250 million to transform the healthy aging sector, including the $40 million for specialised research and development in healthspan science recently announced at Hevolution’s Global Healthspan Summit. 

Hevolution is ramping up its investments to enable healthier aging for all and is now the second largest funder of aging biology research worldwide.  

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