NIH: Office of Disease Prevention



Physical Activity Intervention Programs from the Research-tested Intervention Programs (RTIPs) Database
National Cancer Institute (NCI)

RTIPs is a searchable database of cancer control interventions and program materials and is designed to provide program planners and public health practitioners easy and immediate access to research-tested materials.

This section provides examples of recent scientific advances from National Institutes of Health (NIH)-sponsored research, and is not intended to be a comprehensive list.

Americans Who Practice Yoga Report Better Wellness, Health Behaviors (November 2015)

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)

People who practice yoga or take natural products (dietary supplements other than vitamins and minerals) are more likely to do so for wellness reasons than to treat a specific health condition, according to an analysis of data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). The NHIS is an annual study in which thousands of Americans are interviewed about their health- and illness-related experiences. The 2012 NHIS asked participants about their use of complementary health approaches. Yoga users were much more likely than users of other approaches to report specific wellness-related outcomes, such as feeling better emotionally. They were also the most likely to report exercising more, eating better, and cutting back on alcohol and cigarettes. "Our results suggest that complementary health approaches may play an important role in promoting positive health behaviors, including those we know impact chronic conditions," said Barbara Stussman, statistician for NCCIH and author of the analysis.

Brief Activity Breaks May Benefit Children's Health (September 2015)

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)
Clinical Center (CC)

Interrupting sitting time with brief bouts of walking improved metabolic function in healthy, normal-weight children in an NICHD study. The team enrolled 28 healthy, normal-weight 7- to 11-year-old children. They came to the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, after an overnight fast. During one visit, they remained seated for 3 hours with limited movement. On another visit, they interrupted their sitting by walking on a treadmill for 3 minutes at a moderate-intensity pace every 30 minutes. During each visit, the children were administered an oral glucose tolerance test, which measures the body's ability to use glucose and is often used to test for diabetes. The researchers found that during the interrupted sitting days, the children averaged 7% lower glucose levels and 32% lower insulin levels compared to when they sat for 3 hours continuously. Their blood levels of free fatty acids (high levels of which are linked to type 2 diabetes) were also lower. So were the levels of C-peptide, an indicator of how hard the pancreas is working to control blood sugar. "Our study indicates that even small activity breaks could have a substantial impact on children’s long-term health," said the study's senior author, Dr. Jack A. Yanovski of NICHD.

Diet, Exercise, Smoking Habits, and Genes Interact to Affect AMD Risk (September 2015)

National Eye Institute (NEI)

People with a genetic predisposition for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have significantly increased odds of developing the blinding eye disorder if they had a history of heavy smoking and consistently did not exercise or eat enough fruits and vegetables, according to an observational study funded by the NEI. Kristin J. Meyers, Ph.D., and her team evaluated the diet and exercise patterns of 1663 women who had participated in the Carotenoids in Age-Related Eye Disease Study. They also evaluated whether the women smoked and whether they carried known genetic risk factors for AMD. Those who carried two high-risk genetic alleles, smoked a pack or more a day for at least seven years, and were in the highest-risk diet and exercise categories were more than four times more likely to have AMD compared to those who did not have genetic risk factors and who ate a healthy diet and got at least 10 hours/week of light exercise or at least 8 hours of moderate activity. In addition to lifestyle contributions, vitamin D levels may synergize with genetic factors, according to the findings of another study by the same team. "The findings of both studies support the notion of biologic synergy—that one's genes, lifestyle factors, and nutrition all come together in a synergistic way to mediate inflammation, which is a key mechanism involved in AMD," said Julie Mares, Ph.D., a co-lead of both studies.

Physical Activity May Reduce Age-Related Movement Problems (March 2015)

National Institute on Aging (NIA)
National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke (NINDS)
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD)

Age-related brain lesions known as white matter hyperintensities have been linked to movement problems and disabilities later in life. Previous studies suggest that physical activity may enhance brain health by increasing blood flow and other vascular functions in the brain. Researchers examined whether physical activity can affect the link between age-related brain lesions and motor function in older adults. They found that physical activity levels were not related to the amount of lesions. However, among participants who were most active, the lesions weren’t linked to poorer motor skills. These results suggest that the level of physical activity later in life doesn’t affect white matter hyperintensities, but influences motor function via some other pathway.

Physical Activity and Alzheimer's-Related Hippocampal Atrophy (August 2014)

National Institute on Aging (NIA)

The hippocampus, a brain region that is important for learning and memory, often shrinks in people with Alzheimer's disease (AD). A study conducted by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic's Schey Center for Cognitive Neuroimaging provides evidence of the protective effects of physical activity on the hippocampus in older adults at high genetic risk for Alzheimer's. It also adds to past findings that physical activity, from gardening to walking to structured exercise programs, may benefit cognitive function in older adults. The size of the hippocampus decreased by 3 percent in the group with high genetic risk and low physical activity, while it remained stable in the group with low genetic risk and in participants with high genetic risk/high physical activity. More research is needed to understand how physical activity influences hippocampal atrophy in people at high genetic risk for AD.

Exercise may cut risk of type 2 diabetes after prior gestational diabetes (May 2014)

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)

Gestational diabetes (GD) affects about 5 percent of all pregnancies. In women with GD, the body does not use insulin efficiently and the level of blood sugar, or glucose, increases. Up to 35 to 60 percent of these women develop type 2 diabetes within 20 years after giving birth. NICHD researchers found that women with prior GD who did 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week—a half hour of walking each day for 5 days—cut their risk of type 2 diabetes by 47 percent, when compared to those who did not exercise. The more they exercised, and the harder they exercised, the less likely they were to progress to type 2 diabetes. The researchers also found that time spent watching television was associated with an increased type 2 diabetes risk. "Women at high risk for type 2 diabetes because they once had gestational diabetes are best advised to eat healthily, exercise regularly, and control their weight," said the study's senior author, Cuilin Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., from the NICHD Division of Intramural Population Health Research.

Structured Physical Activity Program Can Help Maintain Mobility in Vulnerable Older People (May 2014)

National Institute on Aging (NIA)
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)

A carefully structured, moderate physical activity program can reduce risk of losing the ability to walk without assistance, perhaps the single most important factor in whether vulnerable older people can maintain their independence, a study has found. Older people who lose their mobility have higher rates of disease, disability, and death. A substantial body of research has shown the benefits of regular physical activity for a variety of populations and health conditions. But, until this study, none has identified a specific intervention to prevent mobility disability. In the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) External Website Policy trial, a large clinical study, researchers found that a regular, balanced, and moderate physical activity program followed for an average of 2.6 years reduced the risk of major mobility disability by 18 percent in an elderly, vulnerable population. Participants receiving the intervention were better able to maintain their ability to walk without assistance for 400 meters, or about a quarter of a mile, the primary measure of the study.

Physical Activity Brings Lasting Bone Benefits (March 2014)

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)

A study of professional baseball players showed that some benefits of building bone during youth can last a lifetime. The research also confirmed that continued physical activity can help maintain bone strength as we age. The researchers focused on the humerus, the upper arm bone running from shoulder to elbow. The loads on humeral bones from repeated pitches, the researchers found, led the bones in throwing arms to nearly double in strength. The bone mass benefits from throwing were gradually lost after throwing activities ended. Players who continued throwing during aging maintained even more of the strength benefits. "Exercise during youth adds extra layers to the outer surface of a bone to essentially make the bone bigger," Dr. Stuart J. Warden of Indiana University, the lead researcher on the study, said. "As bone loss during aging predominantly occurs on the inside rather than outside of a bone, the bigger bone generated by physical activity when young has a means of sticking around long-term to keep the skeleton stronger."