Category Archives: brain

Exercise Creates Optimal Brain State for Mastering New Motor Skills

As I have said numerous times here, I love it when fresh news meets my bias. The one I am thinking about is how physical exercise benefits brain function. You can check out my post – Can exercise help me to learn? And, don’t forget my Page – Important facts about your brain – and exercise benefits.

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If you want to learn to walk a tightrope, it’s a good idea to go for a short run after each practice session. That’s because a recent study in NeuroImage demonstrates that exercise performed immediately after practicing a new motor skill improves its long-term retention. More specifically, the research shows, for the first time, that as little as a single fifteen-minute bout of cardiovascular exercise increases brain connectivity and efficiency. It’s a discovery that could, in principle, accelerate recovery of motor skills in patients who have suffered a stroke or who face mobility problems following an injury. Continue reading

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How Shift Work Disrupts Metabolism

This time it’s personal. A hundred years ago, it seems (actually it was 1977), I worked for Reuters News Service. I had the good fortune, I thought, of being sent to London to experience the international news desk. That turned out to be a wonderful educational as well as professional experience. However, part of my deal was that since I was the Yank who was only there for a year, they used me to fill every staffing vacancy that came up. As a result I often worked two or three different shifts in a week. I have to tell you that I have never felt so discombobulated in my life. I would wake up and not know if it was morning or night. All my body rhythms got fried. So, I really related to the following study.

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Researchers report metabolic disruptions often seen in shift workers are not influenced by the brain’s circadian rhythm, but by peripheral oscillators in the liver, gut and pancreas. Source: Washington State University.

Working night shifts or other nonstandard work schedules increases your risk of becoming obese and developing diabetes and other metabolic disorders, which ultimately also raises your risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Exactly why this happens has been unclear, but a new study conducted at Washington State University (WSU) has brought scientists closer to finding the answer. Continue reading

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How the Brain Processes Temperature Information to Alter Behavior – Harvard

In view of the current heat wave, I thought this study would be of particular interest.

Researchers report on how specific neurons can process sensory information about temperature and facilitate a change in behavior to adapt to the climate.

Do you pause what you’re doing to put on a sweater because you feel chilly? Do you click the thermostat up a few degrees on a winter day? What about keeping a fan on your desk, or ducking into an air-conditioned room to beat the heat?

If so (and, let’s face it, everyone has), then you’ve used sensory information about your environment — the temperature — to alter your behavior.

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Haesemeyer said he plans to work on getting a more detailed picture of the neural circuit in the hind brain that translates heat information into behavior. NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.

But exactly how the brain processes that information has largely remained a mystery. To shed light on that, a team of researchers led by Martin Haesemeyer, a research associate in the labs of Florian Engert, professor of molecular and cellular biology, and Alexander Schier, the Leo Erikson Life Sciences Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, turned to an unlikely subject: zebrafish. Continue reading

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Obesity Plus Aging Linked to Alzheimer’s Markers in the Brain

A new study reports high sugar and fat based diets that lead to obesity, coupled with the normal aging process, may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. By my reckoning that means the older we get the more we need to pay attention to what we are eating and the amount we are exercising. Eat less; move more; live longer. For heaven’s sake, don’t wait till you are a senior to get on the exercise and good eating regime. Clearly, the earlier you start, the better of you are.

A new study suggests that when a high-fat, high-sugar diet that leads to obesity is paired with normal aging, it may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, researchers discovered that certain areas of the brain respond differently to risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s. The study is published in Physiological Reports.

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Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is a progressive brain disorder that leads to loss of cognitive skills and memory and causes significant changes in behavior. Aging is a significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Previous studies suggest that diet-related obesity is also associated with development of the disease. Continue reading

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Frequent aerobic exercise cuts schizophrenia negative symptoms – Study

More good news on exercise this morning. Writing in the British Psychological Society Research Digest, Emma Young reports positive news on the move more section of our eat less; move more; live longer mantra.

Aerobic exercise – any activity that gets your heart pumping harder – improves mood, anxiety and memory. It can help people with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder. Now there’s evidence, from a randomized controlled trial published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, that a program of regular aerobic exercise also reduces psychopathology in people diagnosed with schizophrenia. And it seems to have a particular impact on so-called “negative” symptoms, such as apathy and loss of emotional feeling, which are not improved by standard drug treatments.

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“[W]hile antipsychotics [drug treatments] are essential in treating schizophrenia, interventions other than antipsychotic treatment…may be needed to achieve better outcomes,” write the authors of the new study, led by Peng-Wei Wang at Kaohsiung Medical University Hospital in Taiwan. Continue reading

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How Your Brain Decides Between Knowledge and Ignorance – Study

Good news and bad news? Which do you want to hear first? Isn’t that always one of the toughest questions ever?

Summary: Researchers report the brain’s reward network could play an influential role in evaluating the opportunity to gain new information, just as it does to evaluate rewards such as food or financial gain. Source: University College London (UCL)

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The researchers found that activity in the brain’s reward system – the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area – in response to the opportunity to receive information about good lotteries, but not about bad lotteries, displayed a pattern similar to what is observed in response to material rewards. This brain signal was independent from the brain response observed when participants found out whether they won or lost the lottery and predicted their preference for information. NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.

We have a ‘thirst for knowledge’ but sometime ‘ignorance is bliss,’ so how do we choose between these two mind states at any given time?

UCL psychologists have discovered our brains use the same algorithm and neural architecture to evaluate the opportunity to gain information, as it does to evaluate rewards like food or money. Continue reading

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Dementia can be caused by hypertension – Study

A new study in Cardiovascular Research, published by Oxford University Press, indicates that patients with high blood pressure are at a higher risk of developing dementia. This research also shows (for the first time) that an MRI can be used to detect very early signatures of neurological damage in people with high blood pressure, before any symptoms of dementia occur.

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High blood pressure is a chronic condition that causes progressive organ damage. It is well known that the vast majority of cases of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia are not due to genetic predisposition but rather to chronic exposure to vascular risk factors.

The clinical approach to treatment of dementia patients usually starts only after symptoms are clearly evident. However, it has becoming increasingly clear that when signs of brain damage are manifest, it may be too late to reverse the neurodegenerative process. Physicians still lack procedures for assessing progression markers that could reveal pre-symptomatic alterations and identify patients at risk of developing dementia.

Researchers screened subjects admitted at the Regional Excellence Hypertension Center of the Italian Society of Hypertension in the Department of Angiocardioneurology and Translational Medicine of the I.R.C.C.S, Neuromed, in Italy. Researchers recruited people aged 40 to 65, compliant to give written informed consent and with the possibility to perform a dedicated 3 Tesla MRI scan. Continue reading

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Mindfulness meditation and relaxation response have different effects on brain function – Study

 

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There are two widely used meditation-based stress reduction courses. One is based on the relaxation response – first described by Herb Benson, MD, director emeritus of the MGH-based Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine – which focuses on eliciting a physiologic state of deep rest, the opposite of the “fight or flight” stress response. The other is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, which emphasizes a particular, non-judgmental attitude termed “mindfulness” as key to stress reduction. Although both interventions are based on meditation, the scientific philosophies and meditative traditions upon which each is founded are different, and these differences are reflected in the instructions and exercises taught to patients.

“If the hypotheses proposed by the programs’ creators are in fact correct, they imply that these programs promote wellness through different mechanisms of action,” says Sara Lazar, PhD, of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroscience Research Program, senior author of the current report and assistant professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School. “Such a finding would suggest that these programs could potentially have different effects on disease.”

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5 Ways Technology is Altering our Brains

I am an old man by any standards and while I consider myself comfortable on an Apple  computer, I am not a big texter, Facebooker, or social-media maven in general. I do indulge in Google Plus. Nonetheless, I can not deny that the younger folks I encounter do seem to spend an inordinate amount of time looking at their cell phone screens. This piece from Samuel Merritt University fascinated me.

Technology is changing our brains as well as our lives. If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’re staring into a screen. Our inability to look away from our tablets, smartphones and social networking platforms is changing the way we process information and perceive the world, according to Adam Alter, author of the new book “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.”

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In one Gallup Panel survey, 52 percent of smartphone owners reported checking their mobile devices a few times an hour or more. Data confirms that young people are even more wired: More than seven in 10 young smartphone users check their device a few times an hour or more often, and 22 percent admit to looking at it every few minutes.

The digital age is transforming our behavior when we limit our communication to 140 characters and use emojis to express our emotions. When we’re bored, we simply reach for our gadgets. Continue reading

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How Much Exercise is Needed to Help Improve Thinking Skills?

Eat less; move more; live longer remains the mantra of this blog. Herewith another example of the value of the move more element. We all want to live longer, but that has little meaning if we don’t have a fully functional brain to power us through. I talk about the value of exercise regularly here. Now we have a study that quantifies the amount of movement relevant to benefit our brain.

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We know that exercise may help improve thinking skills. But how much exercise? And for how long?

To find the answers, researchers led by Joyce Gomes-Osman, Ph.D., PT, assistant professor of clinical physical therapy and neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, reviewed all of the studies in which older adults were asked to exercise for at least four weeks and then take tests of thinking and memory skills. Their results were compared to those of people who did not start a new exercise routine. The review was published in the May 30 online issue of Neurology Clinical Practice, an official journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The researchers found that people who exercised an average of at least 52 hours over about six months for about an hour each session may improve their thinking skills. In contrast, people who exercised for an average of 34 hours over the same time period did not show any improvement in their thinking skills. Continue reading

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Nouns slow down our speech – Study

As a senior (with dementia in his family tree) who often finds himself searching for words, I was fascinated by this study. Mental glitches can be scary. It’s nice to find out that there isn’t  anything wrong with your brain.

Speakers hesitate or make brief pauses filled with sounds like “uh” or “uhm” mostly before nouns. Such slow-down effects are far less frequent before verbs, as UZH researchers working together with an international team have now discovered by looking at examples from different languages.

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When we speak, we unconsciously pronounce some words more slowly than others, and sometimes we make brief pauses or throw in meaningless sounds like “uhm”. Such slow-down effects provide key evidence on how our brains process language. They point to difficulties when planning the utterance of a specific word. Continue reading

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Leg exercise critical to brain and nervous system health – Study

Groundbreaking research shows that neurological health depends as much on signals sent by the body’s large, leg muscles to the brain as it does on directives from the brain to the muscles. Published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, the study fundamentally alters brain and nervous system medicine—giving doctors new clues as to why patients with motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal muscular atrophy and other neurological diseases often rapidly decline when their movement becomes limited.

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“Our study supports the notion that people who are unable to do load-bearing exercises—such as patients who are bed-ridden, or even astronauts on extended travel—not only lose muscle mass, but their body chemistry is altered at the cellular level and even their nervous system is adversely impacted,” says Dr. Raffaella Adami from the Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy. Continue reading

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Connecting the Dots Between Physical and Emotional Health

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I have written time and again about the connection between exercise and the brain. Here is a further connection between our emotions and our bodies.

Tony

Our Better Health

There’s a link between your emotional health and your physical well-being, so take time to nurture both.

To be completely healthy, you should take care not only of your physical health, but your emotional health, too. If one is neglected, the other will suffer.

What’s the Connection Between Emotional and Physical Health?

There’s a physical connection between what the mind is thinking and those parts of the brain that control bodily functions. According to Charles Goodstein, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine in New York City, the brain is intimately connected to our endocrine system, which secretes hormones that can have a powerful influence on your emotional health. “Thoughts and feelings as they are generated within the mind [can influence] the outpouring of hormones from the endocrine system, which in effect control much of what goes on within the body,” says Dr…

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Bad habits that can hurt your brain – Web MD

I find myself writing something every week on how exercise benefits the brain as well as the body. I hope you are getting yours regularly. The other side of the coin includes actions we do or omit on a regular basis that harm our body as well as our brain. Here are some from WebMD.

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Not surprisingly, their first is not getting enough sleep. ” … lack of sleep may be a cause of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. It’s best to have regular sleeping hours. If you have trouble with sleep, avoid alcohol, caffeine, and electronics in the evening, and start a soothing bedtime ritual.”

I feel strongly about getting enough sleep. Check out my Page – How important is a good night’s sleep? for lots more details. Continue reading

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Stronger people have healthier brains – Study

Herewith another log on the fire. Eat less; move more; live longer remains the mantra here. I was aware of the brain benefits of aerobic exercise, now, it seems that strength training also contributes.

A study of nearly half a million people has revealed that muscular strength, measured by hand grip, is an indication of how healthy our brains are.

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Dr. Joseph Firth, an Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Manchester and Research Fellow at NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University, crunched the numbers using UK Biobank data.

Using data from the 475,397 participants from all around the U.K., the new study showed that on average, stronger people performed better across every test of brain functioning used. Continue reading

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Sitting is Bad for Your Brain, Not Just Your Heart or Metabolism

It’s been a couple of years now since I first learned the dangers of prolonged sitting. Someone even called ‘sitting the new smoking.‘ I thought that might have been excessive – might have been. However, this new information from UCLA researchers certainly adds resonance to the problem for seniors.

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Sitting too much is linked to changes in a section of the brain that is critical for memory, according to a preliminary study by UCLA researchers of middle-aged and older adults.

Studies show that too much sitting, like smoking, increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and premature death. Researchers at UCLA wanted to see how sedentary behavior influences brain health, especially regions of the brain that are critical to memory formation.

METHOD

UCLA researchers recruited 35 people ages 45 to 75 and asked about their physical activity levels and the average number of hours per day they spent sitting over the previous week. Each person had a high-resolution MRI scan, which provides a detailed look at the medial temporal lobe, or MTL, a brain region involved in the formation of new memories.

The researchers found that sedentary behavior is a significant predictor of thinning of the MTL and that physical activity, even at high levels, is insufficient to offset the harmful effects of sitting for extended periods.

This study does not prove that too much sitting causes thinner brain structures, but instead that more hours spent sitting are associated with thinner regions, researchers said. In addition, the researchers focused on the hours spent sitting, but did not ask participants if they took breaks during this time.

The researchers next hope to follow a group of people for a longer duration to determine if sitting causes the thinning and what role gender, race, and weight might play in brain health related to sitting.

IMPACT

MTL thinning can be a precursor to cognitive decline and dementia in middle-aged and older adults. Reducing sedentary behavior may be a possible target for interventions designed to improve brain health in people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease, researchers said.

Please check out my Page – Do you know the dangers of too much sitting? for more details on the common practice.

Tony

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