Category Archives: Exercise

The benefits of walking – backwards

Last month I started my tenth year of writing this blog. When I began I was a financial journalist writing about an entirely new subject. Now, after some 3000+ posts, I consider myself to be a reporter on the health, fitness and longevity beat. Compared to a doctor, I probably don’t know much, but compared to what I knew when I started, I have learned a ton.

So, it is with some small embarrassment that I tell you that I just learned about how very good for the body it is to walk backwards.

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Here are three experts on the subject:

The famed (and respected by me) Dr. Mercola says, ” Walking backwards helps you to use muscles and movements that you probably rarely use, making it an ideal way to change up your exercise routine for greater fitness gains. When you walk backwards, it puts less strain and requires less range of motion from your knee joints, which is useful for people with knee problems or injuries. Backward walking may help relieve lower back pain, improve hamstring flexibility, burn more fat and calories in less time than traditional walking, improve balance and even sharpen your thinking skills and vision. When walking backwards, do so in a safe location, such as on a track, to avoid falling over obstacles in your path; you can also take a buddy with you to act as your “eyes” and alert you to any upcoming dangers.”

Livestrong “Two University of Oregon professors, Barry Bates and Janet Dufek, have studied the benefits of backward walking and running on people since the 1980’s. They found that backward walking creates reduced shear force on the knees, and may be useful for anyone experiencing pain going up and stairs or doing lunges or squats. Walking backwards uses more energy in a shorter period of time, and burns more calories. It is good for those recovering from hamstring strain because of reduced hip range of motion. Backward walking creates no eccentric loading of the knee joint, the lengthening phase of going down hills or stairs, and can give hikers and scramblers some rest from overuse.”

Lastly, and perhaps most interesting because of the neurobic aspect, The Asian Heart Institute. “When we walk backwards, we obviously cannot see what is happening behind our back so with regular practice our senses automatically build a defense mechanism against potential dangers. This gradually improves balance, peripheral vision and hearing skills. Retro walking is more of a neurobic activity; a physical activity that unofficially invites the brain’s enthusiastic participation. Neurobic activities create a nexus of brand new neural connections in your brain that help you stay mentally sharp, polish your memory and dodge the unwelcome and debilitating guests of later life such as the Alzheimer’s.”

As usual, your comments are invited. I am always interested in your reactions to these posts.

Having added backwards walking to my day, I would like to add the following: Start slow and take small steps. Don’t try to walk long distances, start small, less chance of falling. No point in setting yourself back.

Finally, for the record, check out my Page – Why you should walk more.

Tony

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Filed under Exercise, exercise benefits, flexibility, neurobic exercise, walking, walking backwards

Update on my surgery and biking …

I am now past one week since my oral surgery and feel like I am recovering nicely, thank you. You can read details of the operation here. One of the most difficult aspects of being 79 is that I don’t have a lot of people that I can share experiences with to give me a perspective on my situation. In the past few days I have managed three bike rides. It took more than four days to feel that I had enough energy to ride at all. I had to wonder is that normal (for someone 79)? None of my bike riding friends is within decades of my age. I can only go by how my own body feels.

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Gabi and me a couple of years ago.

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When Fathers Exercise, Children Are Healthier, Even As Adults – Study

Exercise appears to be a tree that bears rich fruit. Indeed, it even benefits unborn children according to this study.

Men who want to have children in the near future should consider hitting the gym.

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In a new study led by Kristin Stanford, a physiology and cell biology researcher with The Ohio State University College of Medicine at the Wexner Medical Center, paternal exercise had a significant impact on the metabolic health of offspring well into their adulthood.

Laurie Goodyear of the Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard Medical School co-led the study, published in the journal Diabetes

“This work is an important step in learning about metabolic disease and prevention at the cellular level,” said Dr. K. Craig Kent, dean of the Ohio State College of Medicine.

Recent studies have linked development of type 2 diabetes and impaired metabolic health to the parents’ poor diet, and there is increasing evidence that fathers play an important role in obesity and metabolic programming of their offspring. Continue reading

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Novel 5-minute workout improves blood pressure, may boost your brain – UC

As regular readers know, the mantra of this blog is eat less; move more; live longer. Moving more means discarding your sedentary lifestyle and exercising regularly.  University of Colorado Boulder have uncorked a novel angle on exercising. Not cardio or weight bearing exercise, but a muscular challenge just the same. Following comes from CU Boulder Today, by Lisa Marshall.

Could working out five minutes a day, without lifting a single weight or jogging a single step, reduce your heart attack risk, help you think more clearly and boost your sports performance?

Preliminary evidence suggests yes.

Now, with a new grant from the National Institute on Aging, CU Boulder researchers have launched a clinical trial to learn more about the ultra-time-efficient exercise known as Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST).

“It’s basically strength-training for the muscles you breathe in with,” explains Daniel Craighead, a postdoctoral researcher in the Integrative Physiology department. “It’s something you can do quickly in your home or office, without having to change your clothes, and so far it looks like it is very beneficial to lower blood pressure and possibly boost cognitive and physical performance.” Continue reading

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9 Tips on staying hydrated – Tufts

Adequate fluid intake is essential to your good health. These tips from the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter will help keep you on track.

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-Drink mostly water. Unsweetened coffee, tea, and milk are also good choices.

-Limit sweet drinks. Sugar-sweetened beverages are bad for your health, increasing weight gain and diabetes risk.

-Track your fluids. If you find you don’t normally feel thirsty, especially in the summer, fill a quart container in the morning and finish before the end of the day.

-Keep it visible. Carry a water bottle when you go out, keep a quart container visible, and place a cup of water by your bed.

-Give it bubbles or flavor. If plain water doesn’t appeal, try adding carbonation, orange slices or other fruit, cucumber, or mint leaves.

-Eat water-dense foods. Fruits (like melons, grapes, and citrus) and raw vegetables (like cucumbers, celery, tomatoes, and peppers) contribute to hydration, as do soups and stews.

-Create habits. Make it a routine to take a drink of water before a meal, before you get out of bed in the morning, or whenever you start a new activity.

-Replenish. Go into physical activity well hydrated and be sure to drink water after activity (or during longer active periods).

-Stay cool. Be sure to drink plenty of water on hot days.

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Brain health connects to heart health – CDC

Eat less; move more; live longer is the mantra here. Apparently, it also leads to think better, too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) seems to think so.

Did you know that the health of your brain and your heart are connected? By keeping your heart healthy, you also lower your risk for brain problems such as stroke and dementia. Learn more about the connection between the heart and brain and steps to take to keep both healthy.

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Heart disease, stroke, and vascular dementia are preventable. Take steps to reduce your risk.

 

  • Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. Over time, high blood pressure puts too much stress on blood vessels. Scientists now know that having uncontrolled high blood pressure in midlife also raises your risk for dementia later in life. Know your numbers by getting your blood pressure checked regularly. If your blood pressure is high, work with your doctor, nurse, or health care team to manage it. One way to manage your blood pressure is to take your medicines as prescribed. Learn more ways to manage blood pressure.
  • Eat healthy foods and limit alcohol. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat dairy, and include seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon) each week. Limit foods with added sugars and saturated fats, and lower your sodium (salt) intake. If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. Drinking too much alcohol raises blood pressure, which can lead to stroke and increase the risk of some kinds of heart disease.
  • Get diabetes under control. Diabetes causes high blood sugar, which can damage blood vessels and nerves. This damage raises the risk for heart disease, stroke, and dementia.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking damages blood vessels and makes blood more likely to clot, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, learn how to quit.
  • Stay active. Lack of physical activity can lead to high blood pressure and obesity. Most Americans don’t meet guidelines of getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. Find ways to get your heart pumping for at least 150 minutes per week. Take the stairs, schedule a walk at lunch, or do jumping jacks during commercial breaks. Learn more about how to get enough physical activity.

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Filed under aging brain, brain, brain function, brain health, dementia, Exercise, exercise benefits

About biking …

I found this wonderful illustration featuring a bicycle and thought I would write a post on biking. As Monty Python used to say, “And now for something new and completely different.”

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Tuesday was an especially fun day of riding. Temp was over 55F, so I got to take the dog along in her basket. There was a north wind which will usually put me off. That’s one of the things about being a 79-year-old bike rider, a headwind figures more and more prominently in your plans. We have had such a chilly spring though, that my dog hasn’t gotten to ride much with me. I didn’t want her to miss out again. I am proud to say that I felt like I outsmarted the wind today. I found a patch of the bike path about a half mile long that had a slight incline heading south. As a result, I had the wind blowing at my back pedaling up the hill. Very nice, no significant extra effort. Then, when I turned around and had to ride into the wind, voila, I was able to reap the benefit of the slight decline, and, again, virtually no extra effort. Happy ending. We managed several hours of lovely biking on this early spring afternoon. Continue reading

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Osteoarthritis and exercise – Tufts

As a long time sufferer of osteoarthritis in my hands, I try to get as much exercise with them as possible. Nice to learn that Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter agrees.

Wear-and-tear arthritis (osteoarthritis) breaks down the cushion of cartilage that allows joints to flex without grinding bone-on-bone. As the cartilage breaks down, it brings pain, stiffness and swelling. People with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee may experience pain when walking, but actually walking and other forms of low-impact exercise can help to reduce osteoarthritis symptoms.

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“Non-impact loading exercises like walking are generally very good for arthritis,” says Jeffrey S. Zarin, MD, chief of the division of arthroplasty at Tufts Medical Center. “It keeps the joints moving, it keeps the joints strong and, generally speaking, it helps your ability to keep functioning. It also helps diminish inflammation.” Continue reading

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Tufts on the benefits of walking

I have written repeatedly about the health benefits of walking. For a good rundown, check out my Page – Why you should walk more. Herewith further elucidation on the benefits of what I call ‘the Cinderella of the exercise world-‘ walking from Tufts Health and Nutrition Letter.

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Did you get your 10,000 steps today? Many people have adopted this daily walking goal to obtain the recommended amount of physical activity. The 10,000-steps-a-day number comes from the Japanese brand name of a pedometer manufactured in the 1960s, the “10,000 steps meter.” In the Fitbit era, counting daily steps remains appealing to many people as a source of motivation.

In the U.S., adults are urged to get the equivalent of 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise. Walking is a popular way to meet those recommendations, particularly in older adults or people who are relatively physically inactive.

Although 10,000 steps is a worthy challenge, aiming for more exercise than you normally get—unless you are one of the few who regularly trains for marathons or triathlons—comes with benefits. Any amount or type of physical activity adds to your daily goal. Regularly taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking farther away from your destination, can make a measurable improvement in your health.

A recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that the benefits of walking on longevity were equivalent whether people got their steps in one long walk, a few shorter ones, or even brief walk breaks of a few minutes—as long as the physical activity was regular.

Preserving Mobility: Among the most important benefits of walking for older adults is preserving physical mobility—the ability to walk without assistance. In 2014, a study involving Tufts researchers called Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) trial provided evidence for the benefits of physical activity in older adults at risk of immobility and disability and other associated health problems.

“This study, for the first time, showed conclusively that a regular program of physical activity can preserve independence among older men and women,” says Roger A. Fielding, PhD, director of the HNRCA Nutrition, Exercise, Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory, who led the Tufts portion of the study.

The LIFE trial was designed to test the ability of physical activity to prevent major mobility disability, defined as the inability to walk for about a quarter-mile (400 meters) within 15 minutes, without sitting and without the help of another person or walker. Use of a cane was allowed. The study involved 1,635 men and women, ages 70 to 89, at 8 universities and research centers across the country, including Tufts.

On a practical level, the walking test gauges a person’s general fitness to perform ordinary activities like shopping, household chores and travel. Not being able to pass the test is a harbinger of future immobility.

Participants were relatively sedentary at the start of the study, having reported less than 20 minutes per week of physical activity in the previous month. The volunteers were randomly assigned to either weekly health education classes with 10 minutes of gentle stretching, or to a program consisting of exercises for strength, flexibility and balance, as well as walking. Participants were told to set as their goal 30 minutes a day of walking at moderate intensity.

Over the average 2.6-year study period, participants in the exercise program were 28% less likely to develop major mobility disability, compared with the control group that just received health education. Increased regular exercise was particularly potent in participants who started the study with the lowest level of physical functioning.

“We think that one of the reasons older people lose their independence is because of some problem they have with their muscle function,” Fielding explains. “Therefore, if you can design an intervention that can help slow the rate of muscle loss or restore some of the muscle function, it may help to prevent individuals from ultimately becoming disabled. We’ve shown that pretty well with exercise.”

How Many Steps to Health? More recently, Fielding used the data from the LIFE study to pin down the amount of physical activity it takes to prevent disability in the at-risk individuals who participated in the LIFE trial. Is 30 minutes a day of walking and other exercise the required buy-in to prevent immobility?

Fielding and his colleagues reanalyzed the LIFE data to see what impact incremental “doses” of physical activity over the first two years of the trial had on physical function (based on tests of balance and leg strength) and walking speed. They found that an increase in physical activity of just over 45 minutes per week reduced the chance of mobility disability by about 70%. That’s equivalent to a single session of exercise training used in the LIFE trial.

It all adds up to this: Even people who are relatively sedentary and start late in the game can benefit from increasing physical activity. Walking is a great entry-level physical activity—simple, free and safe unless you have a balance problem or other risk factor for falling. A brisk walk, combined with a light aerobic workout and strength training, can increase the odds of staying active and independent with aging.

“Understanding the minimal dose of physical activity required to improve physical function and reduce the risk of disability may inform future public health recommendations about physical activity for older adults,” Fielding says. “A reduced risk of disability can be seen with substantially less physical activity than is currently recommended for most inactive older adults.”

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Filed under aging, Exercise, exercise benefits, successful aging, Tufts, Tufts University, walking

What are Two Good Yoga Stretches for Cyclists?

Because the weather appears to be mellowing, I am guessing that a lot more folks will be getting out their bikes to ride ‘in the new season.’ Here are a couple of stretches that I recommend you do before and after your ride.

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One Regular Guy Writing about Food, Exercise and Living Past 100

I ride my bicycle virtually every day here in Chicago. Last year I averaged just over 17 miles per day for all 365 days for a total of 6350 miles for the year.

As you can imagine in a four season city like Chicago, I am not always able to ride at all, so I end up with some longer rides to compensate.

As a senior citizen riding the bike every day can sometimes stiffen up my leg muscles. I have found two wonderful stretches that do a super job of rejuvenating my legs on long rides. I usually do them after about ten miles so the muscles are warmed up. Every time I do them, I can always feel the energy flow back into my legs when I finish.

I have pictures of each stretch, but I want to explain how I do them as that makes the difference…

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Consider Tai Chi …

I have had great success with yoga over the years, but tai chi comes heavily recommended by people whose opinions I respect. I took some classes in it and enjoyed them, but never felt as totally exercised as I did with yoga. Herewith a breakdown of this gentle martial art.

Tai chi is a non-competitive martial art known for its self-defense techniques and health benefits. As a form of exercise, it combines gentle physical exercise and stretching with mindfulness.

photo a man and woman doing martial arts

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Research has produced mixed results but appears to show that tai chi can improve balance control, fitness, and flexibility, and might cut the risk of falls in older people.

Tai chi also appears to reduce pain and the symptoms of depression in some cases.

The martial art is an ancient Chinese tradition that has evolved over centuries. To its advocates, it has become a means of alleviating stress and anxiety, a form of “meditation in motion.” Its supporters claim that it promotes serenity and inner peace.

It is safe for people of all ages, as it does not put too much stress on the muscles and joints.

This article explores the documented evidence for the benefits of tai chi.

Benefits

Various research suggests the benefits of tai chi might include improved balance, pain management, and cognitive function in people with and without chronic conditions.

Other possible benefits include improved sleep quality and an enhanced immune system. Continue reading

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Spring forward today …

At 2:00 o’clock this morning you needed to set your clock one hour ahead – spring forward – to participate in Daylight Savings Time. Some explanations for this practice include to help the harvest for farmers by providing more daylight working hours.

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But, what does it mean to the rest of us non-agrarian folks?

Well, this morning if you are on a schedule, like catching an airplane or something, you lost an hour of sleep, so you may be somewhat sleep-deprived the rest of the day. This being Sunday, maybe you just slept in. If that is the case, you will start your day an hour later, but otherwise, no harm, no foul.

Later, however, we all will experience the magic of moving an hour of daylight from the morning to the afternoon – Daylight Savings. If you want to enjoy the outdoors, you now have an extra hour of daylight to do so in the afternoon.

As a health-oriented person, I welcome this daylight saving because I can now ride my bike later without having to deal with the dangers of darkness and street lights and reduced visibility.

If you are on the fence about what Daylight Savings Time means to you, let me suggest that you can now get out and enjoy a walk in the neighborhood or to the park and drink in some of nature’s wonders.

In January I posted an infographic listing six benefits of exercising in nature, they included: Fresh air has more oxygen; Greenscapes raise serotonin levels; Triggers primal regions of our brain and psyche; More sensory stimulation; Increases feelings of well-being and lowers depression and, finally, Sun exposure increases Vitamin D levels and helps optimize hormones.

Lastly, Gretchen Reynolds, writing in the New York Times said, “In a number of recent studies, volunteers have been asked to go for two walks for the same time or distance — one inside, usually on a treadmill or around a track, the other outdoors. In virtually all of the studies, the volunteers reported enjoying the outside activity more and, on subsequent psychological tests, scored significantly higher on measures of vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem and lower on tension, depression and fatigue after they walked outside.”

So smile, things are looking up. You will have a brighter day today. I guarantee it (an extra hour of sunlight). At the very least, get out and go for a walk.

Tony

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Some tips on arthritis – Tufts

Approximately 350 million people worldwide have arthritis. Nearly 40 million persons in the United States are affected by arthritis, including over a quarter million children! More than 21 million Americans have osteoarthritis. Approximately 2.1 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.
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I have written more than once about the arthritis I suffer from in my hands. Mine is osteoarthritis.  Following is a series of tips from Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter.

Nonsurgical options for osteoarthritis:

Physical therapy: A therapist can work with you to develop a stretching and strengthening routine to relive symptoms and keep you active.
-Weight loss: If you are overweight, shedding some pounds reduces the pressure you place on your knee joints.
-Walking: For those with milder arthritis, regular brisk walking or even light jogging has been shown in some studies to slow the progression of osteoarthritis.
-Acupuncture: Studies on acupuncture for joint pain are mixed, but some doctors think it’s worth a try for a few months.
-Supplements: Research is mixed on whether glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate and other purported “joint support” supplements relieve pain, with the data trending toward no benefit. But some people feel the pills make a difference.

Here is a breakdown on the two types from the National Institutes of Health.

Osteoarthritis: a disease that damages the slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint. This allows bones to rub together. The rubbing causes pain, swelling, and loss of motion of the joint. Over time, the joint may lose its normal shape. The condition can cause bone spurs to grow on the edges of the joint. Bits of bone or cartilage can break off and float inside the joint space, which causes more pain and damage. Unlike some other forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis affects only joints and not internal organs. It is the most common type of arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: a disease that affects your joints. Joints are where two or more bones join together, such as at your knees, hips, or shoulders. Rheumatoid arthritis causes pain, swelling and stiffness. If joints on one side of your body have rheumatoid arthritis, usually those joints on the other side do, too. This disease often occurs in more than one joint. It can affect any joint in the body. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you also may feel sick and tired, and sometimes get fevers.

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6 Tips for successful aging

Simple, but not easy, is a common description that I seem to hear all the time. I have accumulated some simple, and I hope easy, tips for successful aging. These are from Dana Corp.’s Brain in the News.

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1. Be physically active – 30 minutes a day – three days a week. Easy peasy.

2. Reduce your cardiovascular risk factors – including hypertension, diabetes and smoking.

3. Manage your medications by reviewing them with a clinician and learning about their effects on your cognitive health.

4. Be socially and intellectually active.

5. Get enough sleep. I can’t stress this enough. If  you want to know more about this utterly simple step, please check out my Page – How important is a good night’s sleep?

6. Guard against delirium, a decrease in cognitive function that can be triggered by hospitalization, medications and certain illnesses.

 

Tony

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The Sweet Truth About Chocolate

In view of Valentine’s Day tomorrow and tons of chocolate being consumed in honor of it, I thought it might be useful to get a taste of chocolate’s impact on our health.

Medical News Today says, “Throughout the years, chocolate has been on the end of a lot of bad press because of its fat content, and its consumption has been associated with acne, obesity, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and diabetes.

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“However, ‘the recent discovery of biologically active phenolic compounds in cocoa has changed this perception and stimulated research on its effects in aging, oxidative stress, blood pressure regulation, and atherosclerosis. Today, chocolate is lauded for its tremendous antioxidant potential.’
The potential benefits of eating chocolate may include:
▪ lowering cholesterol levels
▪ preventing cognitive decline
▪ reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems. Continue reading

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How exercise may protect against Alzheimer’s – Study

As a senior citizen whose family has Alzheimer’s and dementia on both sides I am keenly interested in anything on the subject. Herewith a study published in Nature Medicine.

Athletes know a vigorous workout can release a flood of endorphins: “feel-good” hormones that boost mood. Now there’s evidence that exercise produces another hormone that may improve memory and protect against Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study co-led by Ottavio Arancio, MD, PhD, a researcher at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain.

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Physical activity is known to improve memory, and studies suggest it may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. But researchers don’t understand why. Continue reading

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