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Research Highlights

Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders. Evidence is emerging indicating that physical activity can be helpful in improving length and quality of sleep. A study conducted by Dr Li-Jung Cheng,Professor of Department of Exercise Health Science, in cooperation with University of Bristol (UK), Taipei City Hospital, Nan Kei University, and National Changhua University of Education showed that remaining at high levels of leisure-time activity reduces the risk of subsequent insomnia for older adults. The results were published in International Journal of Sport Psychology in 2014.

The study examined relationships between three categories of physical activity (leisure-time, domestic and work-related physical activities) and insomnia using both cross-sectional and longitudinally data over a 10-year period in a community-based sample of older people in Taiwan. The results suggest that maintenance of a higher than average level of leisure-time activity reduces the risk of subsequent insomnia in older adults. It recommends leisure-based activity, which is low-cost, and carries many other health benefits, as a strategy to avoid sleep problem.

The academic-related behaviors, requiring sitting down, may restrict time available for physical activity and effect children’s fitness levels. This fitness-academic performance relationship is especially interesting as students spend large amounts of their time at school working in the cognitive domain. A study led by Dr. Li-Jung Chen, Professor of Department of Exercise Health Science, has shown that various forms of fitness have different relationships with academic performance. Improvement in cardiovascular fitness, but not muscular endurance or flexibility between 7th grade and 9th grade, is significantly related to greater academic performance. The results were published in Journal of School Health in 2013

In the study, Dr. Chen et al. collected 3-wave data and conducted several statistical analyses to examine the relationships between various components of physical fitness and subsequent academic performance over 3 school years among adolescents. The results confirmed that improvement in cardiovascular fitness was significantly associated with better academic performance. Those who were initially cardiovascular fit have better academic scores at baseline and the rate of change in cardiovascular fitness was related to the rate of change in academic performance. These results suggest that attempts to improving cardiovascular fitness in schoolchildren is worthy of further study as it has potential to have a positive influence on academic performance.

Cyclosporine A (CsA), a potent immunosuppressive agent, is widely used to in patients receiving organ transplants or with autoimmune diseases. However, CsA carries several side effects such as decreased muscle functions and inhibition of muscle regeneration. This may be one of the reasons that organ transplant patients treated with CsA often suffer from weight loss and muscle weakness. The increased oxidative stress induced by CsA is thought to be the major reason for these muscular side effects. A study conducted by Dr Chen-Kang Chang, the Director of Center for Sport Science Research in Central Taiwan, in cooperation with faculty of NTUS, China Medical University, and National Chun Hsing University showed that regular endurance exercise alleviated the oxidative stress in the muscle by promoting the functions of antioxidant enzymes in mice receiving CsA.

The mice in the CsA-exercise group received a daily dose of 20 mg/kg body weight, while running on a specialized treadmill for 45 min per day, 3 days a week. After 8 weeks, the CsA-exercise group had significantly higher antioxidant enzyme activity and lower oxidative stress than the CsA-non-exercise group. Regular endurance exercise such as running and cycling has been known to increase antioxidant defense system and decrease oxidative stress in the body, Dr Chang explained. Therefore, this study hypothesized that the effect of exercise in alleviating oxidative stress could offset the side effect of CsA. Although the patients receiving CsA are usually fragile, they can still benefit from regular exercise such as brisk walking and jogging.

Tennis matches are composed of short but intensive efforts. A professional match could last for several hours, resulting in significant neuromuscular fatigue. The players who can prevent the fatigue and maintain the skill performance would have better chance in winning the match. A study led by Dr Chen-Kang Chang, the Director of Center for Sport Science Research in Central Taiwan, has shown that sodium bicarbonate supplementation before a 12-game simulated tennis match could prevent the decline in accuracy in serving and ground strokes at the end of the match. The results were published in Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2010.

In this study, the serving and ground stroke accuracy in a standardized tennis skill test is maintained after the match in the players taking 0.3 g sodium bicarbonate per kg body weight at 1 hr before the exercise, while the accuracy was significantly decreased in the players taking placebo. Sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda, could serve as an additional buffer to neutralize the increased acidity in the muscles produced by high-intensity exercise, Dr Chang explained. In addition, the impairments in neural function in the forearm may also decreased by the supplement. The dual effect of bicarbonate in alleviating muscular and neural fatigue contributes to the maintenance of skill performance at the end of match. The supplementation regimen could be used in tennis players that compete in prolonged matches. However, some people may experience side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. People who wish to use sodium bicarbonate as the supplement in competitions should try it beforehand during regular training, Dr Chang cautioned.