Studies have shown that exercise helps protect brain cells. A new study looking at the mechanisms involved in this relationship suggests that the role exercise plays in maintaining insulin and body mass index levels may help protect brain volume and thus help stave off dementia. The research is published in the April 13, 2022, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
“These results may help us to understand how physical activity affects brain health, which may guide us in developing strategies to prevent or delay age-related decline in memory and thinking skills,” said study author Géraldine Poisnel, PhD, of Inserm Research Center in Caen, France. “Older adults who are physically active gain cardiovascular benefits, which may result in greater structural brain integrity.”
In contrast, researchers found that the relationship between exercise and the metabolism of glucose in the brain was not affected by insulin or body mass index (BMI) levels. Reduced glucose metabolism in the brain can been seen in people with dementia.
One in 10 adults in the United States struggles with depression, and antidepressant medications are a common way to treat the condition. However, pills aren’t the only solution. Research shows that exercise is also an effective treatment. “For some people it works as well as antidepressants, although exercise alone isn’t enough for someone with severe depression,” says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
The exercise effect
Exercising starts a biological cascade of events that results in many health benefits, such as protecting against heart disease and diabetes, improving sleep, and lowering blood pressure. High-intensity exercise releases the body’s feel-good chemicals called endorphins, resulting in the “runner’s high” that joggers report. But for most of us, the real value is in low-intensity exercise sustained over time. That kind of activity spurs the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections. The improvement in brain function makes you feel better. “In people who are depressed, neuroscientists have noticed that the hippocampus in the brain—the region that helps regulate mood—is smaller. Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression,” explains Dr. Miller.
The challenge of getting started
Depression manifests physically by causing disturbed sleep, reduced energy, appetite changes, body aches, and increased pain perception, all of which can result in less motivation to exercise. It’s a hard cycle to break, but Dr. Miller says getting up and moving just a little bit will help. “Start with five minutes a day of walking or any activity you enjoy. Soon, five minutes of activity will become 10, and 10 will become 15.”
What you can do
It’s unclear how long you need to exercise, or how intensely, before nerve cell improvement begins alleviating depression symptoms. You should begin to feel better a few weeks after you begin exercising. But this is a long-term treatment, not a onetime fix. “Pick something you can sustain over time,” advises Dr. Miller. “The key is to make it something you like and something that you’ll want to keep doing.”
Scientists at Newcastle University have shown that physical activity causes the cancer-fighting protein, interleukin-6 (IL-6), to be released into the bloodstream which helps repair the DNA of damaged cells.
The findings, published in the International Journal of Cancer, sheds new light on the importance of moderate activity in the fight against the life-threatening illness and could help develop treatments in the future.
Dr Sam Orange, Lecturer in Exercise Physiology at Newcastle University, said: “Previous scientific evidence suggests that more exercise is better for reducing bowel cancer risk as the more physical activity people do, the lower their chances of getting it. Our findings support this idea.
“When exercise is repeated multiple times each week over an extended period, cancer-fighting substances – such as IL-6 – released into the bloodstream have the opportunity to interact with abnormal cells, repairing their DNA and reducing growth into cancer.”
Weight management is challenging in our “middle-age” years. Whether because of genetics, aging, hormones, lifestyle, or “life changes,” it is tough for many to lose weight and harder to keep from re-gaining it in these years, according to BeWell at Stanford Medicine.
While many men deal with similar issues, women face the additional mid-life challenge of menopause. Is mid-life weight gain inevitable, permanent, irreversible? Or are some of the factors temporary and can be better managed? To learn more, BeWell spoke with Marcia Stefanick, PhD, professor of medicine and obstetrics/gynecology at Stanford Medicine.
Does weight gain during middle age result from aging or temporary hormonal changes?
It is challenging to tease apart age-related changes in weight and body composition from changes related to menopause. Age is certainly associated with an increase in body fat and decrease in skeletal muscle mass that the majority of women, and men, experience in middle age. There are both biological, including hormonal and lifestyle, explanations for these changes. Of course, the menopausal transition which all women undergo represents a particularly challenging period of metabolic and physiologic change.
Can you explain what actually happens during menopause, in terms of the physiological transition, and why weight gain is so commonly experienced?
Exercising for 20 minutes a day in your 70s appears to be the best way older adults can live longer without heart problems, a new study reveals. Scientists in Italy say the moderate to vigorous physical activity reduced the risk of developing heart disease when these individuals reached their 80s.
Researchers have long known that physical activity lengthens lifespans and reduces the risk from cardiovascular disease, regardless of gender or ethnicity. Until now, however, few studies have probed whether exercise later in life can ward off heart attacks and strokes during old age.
For the study, the team drew on information from the Progetto Veneto Anziani study of 3,099 Italians over the age of 65. Those researchers carried out initial tests including a detailed medical history, physical examination, scans, and a range of blood tests between 1995 and 1997. Scientists conducted two further assessments four and seven years later.
Older women live with more pre-existing conditions
When the study began, women were more likely than men to have more than four co-existing conditions. Osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and chronic kidney disease were more common among women than men, while diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were more common among men.
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.
“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 →
I recently wrote about the beginning of flu season. Well, what goes hand in hand with flu season? Cold weather and snow shoveling. Hopefully, you have gotten a flu shot by now and are set up to face flu season. I just wanted to remind you that you need to use your brain as well as your back when it comes to shoveling snow.
For many of us the onset of snow shoveling season is just around the corner. Please be aware that in terms of your body, shoveling snow is not a totally innocent activity. While I strongly support calorie burning exercises to build up your cardiovascular system and other benefits, it is important to know your limits. If you are not currently working out or don’t consider yourself to be “in condition,” please think twice before you grab that snow shovel and race out to clear the walk. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine reported that more than 195,000 people were treated in U.S. Emergency Rooms for snow-shovel-related incidents from 1990 to 2006. This is an average of 11,500 individuals per year. Keep in mind that this information only covers folks who actually went to the ER for treatment. Plenty more stayed home and nursed their wounds …. About 2/3 of these incidents occurred among males. Children younger than 18 made up 15.3% of the cases. Older adults (above 55 years) accounted for more than 20%. The most common diagnosis was soft tissue injury. Injuries to the lower back accounted for more than 1/3 of the cases. The most common mechanism of injury/nature of medical emergency was acute musculoskeletal exertion followed by slips and falls. The study reported that snow shoveling places huge demand on the cardiovascular system and heart rates can shoot above recommended upper limits after only two minutes of activity. In addition peripheral blood vessels are constricted in freezing temps which further stresses the heart. The study recommended that folks warm up before shoveling and individuals with a more sedentary lifestyle consider hiring someone else to do it.
How fatigued certain activities make an older person feel can predict the likelihood death is less than three years away, according to research published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences by University of Pittsburgh epidemiologists. It is the first study to establish perceived physical fatigability as an indicator of earlier mortality. Older people who scored the highest in terms of how tired or exhausted they would feel after activities were more than twice as likely to die in the following 2.7 years compared to their counterparts who scored lower. Fatigability was assessed for a range of activities using the novel Pittsburgh Fatigability Scale.
“This is the time of year when people make—and break—New Year’s resolutions to get more physical activity,” said lead author Nancy W. Glynn, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health.
“I hope our findings provide some encouragement to stick with exercise goals. Previous research indicates that getting more physical activity can reduce a person’s fatigability. Our study is the first to link more severe physical fatigability to an earlier death. Conversely, lower scores indicate greater energy and more longevity.”
Grampa, when you finish that puzzle please slip on your walking shoes and step outside.
A lot of senior citizens are doing Sudoku puzzles and crosswords to ‘exercise their brains’ and slow the aging process. These puzzles can be fun, and they do build puzzle-solving skills which are long-lasting. They are not even half the battle against aging, though.
“Unless the activities that you’re practicing span a broad spectrum of abilities, then there is not a proven general benefit to these mental fitness programs. So, the idea that any single brain exercise program late in life can act as a quick fix for general mental function is almost entirely faith-based,” Professor Wang said in our post on physical exercise vs mental exercise.
Walking, on the other hand, boosts blood flow to the brain. Medicine.net reported that moderate aerobic exercise helps boost blood flow to the brain. Continue reading →
When elderly people stay active, their brains have more of a class of proteins that enhances the connections between neurons to maintain healthy cognition, a UC San Francisco study has found.
This protective impact was found even in people whose brains at autopsy were riddled with toxic proteins associated with Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
“Our work is the first that uses human data to show that synaptic protein regulation is related to physical activity and may drive the beneficial cognitive outcomes we see,” said Kaitlin Casaletto, PhD, an assistant professor of neurology and lead author on the study, which appears in the January 7 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
The beneficial effects of physical activity on cognition have been shown in mice but have been much harder to demonstrate in people.
I am resending this on the blog as my Christmas present to you. My girlfriend gave me a Yoda hoodie for Christmas with the quote – “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”
Those were Yoda’s words to Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back when Luke was stuck, unsuccessful and becoming frustrated with his failure. Luke precipitated that fabulous quote when he said, “Okay, I’ll give it a try.”
I always liked Yoda’s words. There seemed to be a deep meaning to them. How can you do something without trying? I never quite got what it was, but I always sensed there was a profound meaning in there some place. I don’t know how many years ago I heard that quote. It was in a movie theater when that particular installment of the Star Wars Trilogy was showing. Surely more than 10 years have gone by, maybe 20. Anyway, I finally got it.
I was riding my bicycle yesterday afternoon and just kind of playing with the idea of trying. What does it mean to try? That happens a lot when I am riding. I have told people that riding is my meditation. It just happens to burn calories. I don’t ride the bike for that, though. I do it because I love riding. Everything else is just gravy.
Although all of us senior citizens have our ‘moments,’ recent studies have shown that we can retain our mental clarity by following some basic habits of good health.
Harvard Medical School lists a number of habits that can cut into our chances of suffering from dementia in our old age. They include staying physically active, getting enough sleep, not smoking, having good social connections, limiting alcohol to one drink a day, and eating a balanced diet low in saturated and trans fats.
In addition, they point out several health conditions that can impair cognitive skills, including diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, depression, hypothyroidism, and high LDL (bad) cholesterol. If you suffer from any of these, they recommend that you follow your doctor’s advice.
They list six strategies that Harvard offers to protect and sharpen our memory and our minds.
1. Keep learning According to experts challenging your brain with…
Important life events, including entering school, a first job, having a child, getting married or retiring from work, can significantly affect a person’s level of physical activity.
Individuals with lower levels of education, who lived alone, who lack access to a safe outdoor space, Black Americans, some members of the LGBTQ+ community and women who are pregnant or new parents are identified as potentially susceptible to lower levels of physical activity in general or during important life events.
Patients and health care professionals should engage in more conversations about exercise and ways to stay active, especially during major life events and transitions.
Starting a new school or a new job, having a baby or entering retirement are major life events that significantly affect a person’s physical activity level, which may lead to poorer heart health. Individuals and health care professionals need to be proactive in addressing this issue, according to guidance from a new American Heart Association Scientific Statement published today in the Association’s flagship journal Circulation. A scientific statement is an expert analysis of current research and may inform future guidelines.
The statement, entitled “Supporting Physical Activity in Patients and Populations During Life Events and Transitions,” focuses on the need to better understand how life changes affect physical activity levels and what can be done to help people maintain good heart health throughout life transitions. The statement writing group members note that because sedentary behavior is an emerging cardiovascular disease risk factor, it’s important to recognize how physical activity levels may impact health during major life events and transitions. The statement also provides guidance for health care professionals to identify, address and promote regular physical activity to patients experiencing significant changes in their lives. Options for community-level interventions to promote physical activity are also explored.
Back in August I addressed the concept of ‘10,000 steps a day.’ You can read about it here. Now comes the American Heart Association with further insights into this idea. I have said repeatedly that walking is the Cinderella of the exercise world – totally unappreciated.
It’s a worthy, healthy goal to take 10,000 steps each day, but that magic number didn’t come from doctors or physical trainers.
In the mid-1960s, Japanese marketers trying to sell a pedometer named it manpo-kei, which generally translates to “10,000 step meter” in English. The Japanese character for “10,000” roughly resembles a person walking.
“It’s a nice clean number and it makes a good marketing message,” said Amanda Paluch, assistant professor in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. “You can see why it stuck. But there was not a lot of science behind it.”
Regular readers know that I ride year ’round here in Chicago. Through November, we barely cracked 40 degrees F which didn’t call for much extra prep beyond gloves and ear covering. Come December, however, with the advent of the 30s and below a whole new dimension of cycling wear opens up. Whether you ride a bike or not, I think you will find some useful info here.
From the Toronto Star
A recent Wall Street Journal had a cleverly written item on Your Outdoor Sports Survival Guide, by Jason Gay. He aptly describes “the maniacal joy of Survival Season,” and observes “Nobody looks suave playing sports in the freezing cold. If you are doing it correctly, you look a little unhinged and suspicious. Are you going to play golf…or rob the Bank of Alaska?” Continue reading →