Tag Archives: Spark

Omega 3 Fatty Acids Protect Cognitive Function in Aging Adults

It looks like there is some good dietary news on the cognitive functioning horizon.

Neuroscience News says, “Study participants who received omega-3 fatty acids showed greater improvements on an object location memory task than participants who received a placebo containing sunflower oil. However, there was no evidence of improved performance on a verbal learning test. “Results from this study suggest that a long-term approach to prevention is particularly effective in preserving cognitive function in older individuals. A targeted approach involving dietary supplements can play a central role in this regard,” concluded the researchers. Emphasis mine.

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“Changes in cognitive function and memory decline form a normal part of aging. However, in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or sometimes in the case of mild cognitive impairment, these changes occur more quickly. There are currently no effective treatments for these diseases….”

While there are no effective treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease, it is a fact that exercise definitely can hold back other forms of dementia. I direct your attention to my Page – Important Facts About Your Brain (and Exercise Benefits) for a number of posts I have written on the connection between exercise and the maintaining a healthy brain. Continue reading

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Can Exercise Help Me To Learn?

“Exercise helps you to learn on three levels: first, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention and motivation; second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus,” so says Spark, the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. Author John J. Ratey, M.D., is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Besides, Spark, he also wrote A User’s Guide to the Brain among other books.

The hippocampus plays a major role in the consolidation of information from long term memory and short term memory. So, clearly, exercise plays an important role for seniors who are concerned about their memory failing in their latter years.

One distinction needs to be made here. You can’t learn difficult material while you are exercising because blood is shunted away from the prefrontal cortex and this hampers your executive function. Dr. Ratey quotes a study of college students who were working out on treadmills and exercise bikes at a high rate. They performed poorly on tests of complex learning. “However blood flow shifts back almost immediately after you finish exercising, and this is the perfect time to focus on a project that demands sharp thinking and complex analysis.”

He enumerates an experiment that was done on 40 adults aged 50 to 64. They were asked to do one 35 minute treadmill session at either 60 percent or 70 percent of maximum heart rate. Afterwards, they were asked to list alternative uses for common objects, like a newspaper. It is used for reading, but can be used to wrap fish, line a bird cage, etc. Half of the group watched a movie and the other half exercised. They were tested three times, before the session, immediately after the session and then 20 minutes later. The results of the movie watchers showed no change, but the runners improved their processing speed and cognitive flexibility after just one session. “Cognitive flexibility is an important executive function that reflects our ability to shift thinking and to produce a steady flow of creative thoughts and answers as opposed to a regurgitation of the usual responses. The trait correlates with high performance levels in intellectually demanding jobs.” The doctor recommends going for a short, intense run at lunchtime ahead of an important brain-storming session at work.

spark-book I have enjoyed Dr. Ratey’s book and recommend it to readers of the blog. You can get a look at the book on the Amazon website and purchase it from there if you like it.

As regular readers know, I lost an aunt to Alzheimer’s and my mother suffered from dementia in her final years. I am a total believer in this exercise-learning hypothesis. If I don’t ride my bike every day, I manage a five mile walk, climb 30 flights of stairs, or take a trip to the health club. I ain’t sittin’ around doin’ nothin’.

I have repeated the phrase, Use it or Lose it time and again in this blog. In this case, using the body promotes healthy mental processes as well as good physical results.

Tony

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Does Exercise Reduce Our Chances of Alzheimer’s?

Regular readers know how strongly I feel about including exercise in our daily life. This is not just for weight control, but because our bodies are organic machines that need to move and be maintained. In addition, exercise also benefits the brain.

19393.jpgA study done at the Karolinska Institute found that seniors who had high glucose levels, but did not have diabetes, were 77 per cent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. The study took over nine years and covered 1173 individuals over the age of 75.

As reported in the book, Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, “As we age, insulin levels drop and glucose has a harder time getting into the cells to fuel them. Then glucose can skyrocket, which creates waste products in the cells – such as free radicals – and damages blood vessels, putting us at risk of a stroke and Alzheimer’s. When everything is balanced, insulin works against the buildup of amyloid plaque, but too much encourages the buildup, as well as inflammation, damaging surrounding neurons.

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Can Exercise Help Me to Live Longer?

As I have written repeatedly in the blog, exercise is one of the keys to healthy aging as well as healthy living. Here is a super explanation of the impact of aerobic exercise on the cardiovascular system from the book Spark. You can read about it here by Dr. John Ratey, author of A User’s Guide to the Brain.

He says hopefully that when people come to accept that exercise is as important for the brain as it is for the heart they will commit to it.

Regarding the cardiovascular system, he writes, “A strong heart and lungs reduce resting blood pressure. The result is less strain on the vessels in the body and the brain. There are a number of mechanisms at work here.

“First, contracting muscles during exercise releases growth factors …. Aside from their in helping neurons bind and promoting neurogenesis, they trigger a molecular chain reaction that produces endolethial cells,which make up the inner lining of blood vessels and thus are important for building new ones. These inroads expand the vascular network, bringing each area of the brain that much closer to a lifeline and creating redundant circulation routes that protect against future blockages.
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How Exercise Benefits the Brain – Chicago Tribune

I wrote Exercise, Aging and the Brain back in September 2011. The first sentence reads, “Just a year of modest aerobic exercise reversed normal brain shrinkage by one to two years in older adults and improved their memory function, according to an article in today’s Wall Street Journal.”

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Because I have a family history of Alzheimer’s and dementia, I am acutely aware of my own brain’s vulnerability, so the Wall Street Journal piece reassured me and also spurred me to investigate how the brain benefits from exercise. You can check out my Page – Important Facts About Your Brain (and Exercise Benefits) to read more posts on the subject.

So, you can imagine my excitement to learn that the Chicago Tribune had picked up on the concept, too. My brother, Mike, also a senior citizen, called to alert me about the article – The Best Brain Exercise May be Physical by Julie Deardorff, a certified personal trainer and writer for Northwestern University, where I taught journalism some years ago.

I liked the fact that Deardorff expanded the concept of exercise aiding the brain all the way to infancy. “Babies, for example, need regular movement to carve out critical pathways and form connections in the brain. In children, research suggests exercise improves attention, focus and academic performance.”

My focus had been on the aging brain, but it is gratifying to learn that the principle starts in the crib.

“Scientists used to believe the mind-body connection was a one-way street: The brain helped build a better physique — or else it sabotaged attempts to get to the gym. But scores of studies suggest that what’s good for the body also is nurturing the old noodle. Exercise, it turns out, can help improve cognition in ways that differ from mental brain-training games,” the Tribune piece continued.

Yes, about those brain games. In April 2011 I wrote Exercise, Not Just Sudoku for Seniors. “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.

So, seniors who are doing crosswords and sudoku puzzles to keep their brains active would be far better off taking a walk or indulging in other physical exercise that will send some oxygen up to their brains and create new neurotransmitters.

The Tribune piece concludes, “Sadly, the hippocampus naturally shrinks in late adulthood, leading to impaired memory and increased risk for dementia….

“”Atrophy of the hippocampus in later life is generally considered inevitable,” said Kirk Erickson, professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. “But we’ve shown that even moderate exercise for one year can increase the size of that structure. The brain at that stage remains modifiable.””

I would like to conclude with some quotes from my post of May 2011 Exercise Has Real Benefits for the Brain.

“The brain has similar needs to other organs. It needs glucose, oxygen and other nutrients. There are very real concrete benefits to exercising that directly affect the brain.

“I like to say that exercise is like taking a little Prozac or a little Ritalin at just the right moment,” says John J. Ratey, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of A User’s Guide to the Brain.spark-book

“Exercise is really for the brain, not the body. It affects mood, vitality, alertness, and feelings of well-being” according to WebMD.

Dr. John Ratey also wrote the Book Spark – The Revolutonary New Science of Exercise and the Brain which you can check out at this Amazon link.

So, as I have said so many times on these pages, eat less/move more/live longer. You are likely to be doing it with your mental faculties intact, too.

Tony

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12 Mental Benefits of Exercise – Infographic

I feel very strongly about the idea that the brain benefits from exercise. I think the benefits to the brain are totally overlooked by most fitness writers when, in fact, they may be the most important.

“Exercise is really for the brain, not the body. It affects mood, vitality, alertness, and feelings of well-being” according to Jahn Ratey, MD and author of Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (available on Amazon).

Please check out my Page Important Facts About Your Brain (and Exercise) for more details.

ee2bd0a077df637f56733ae22d342ba6Tony

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Can Exercise Help Me To Learn?

“Exercise helps you to learn on three levels: first, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention and motivation; second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus,” so says Spark, the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. Author John J. Ratey, M.D., is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Besides, Spark, he also wrote A User’s Guide to the Brain among other books.

The hippocampus plays a major role in the consolidation of information from long term memory and short term memory. So, clearly, exercise plays an important role for seniors who are concerned about their memory failing in their latter years.

One distinction needs to be made here. You can’t learn difficult material while you are exercising because blood is shunted away from the prefrontal cortex and this hampers your executive function. Dr. Ratey quotes a study of college students who were working out on treadmills and exercise bikes at a high rate. They performed poorly on tests of complex learning. “However blood flow shifts back almost immediately after you finish exercising, and this is the perfect time to focus on a project that demands sharp thinking and complex analysis.”

He enumerates an experiment that was done on 40 adults aged 50 to 64. They were asked to do one 35 minute treadmill session at either 60 percent or 70 percent of maximum heart rate. Afterwards, they were asked to list alternative uses for common objects, like a newspaper. It is used for reading, but can be used to wrap fish, line a bird cage, etc. Half of the group watched a movie and the other half exercised. They were tested three times, before the session, immediately after the session and then 20 minutes later. The results of the movie watchers showed no change, but the runners improved their processing speed and cognitive flexibility after just one session. “Cognitive flexibility is an important executive function that reflects our ability to shift thinking and to produce a steady flow of creative thoughts and answers as opposed to a regurgitation of the usual responses. The trait correlates with high performance levels in intellectually demanding jobs.” The doctor recommends going for a short, intense run at lunchtime ahead of an important brain-storming session at work.

spark-book I have enjoyed Dr. Ratey’s book and recommend it to readers of the blog. You can get a look at the book on the Amazon website and purchase it from there if  you like it.

As regular readers know, I lost an aunt to Alzheimer’s and my mother suffered from dementia in her final years. I am a total believer in this exercise-learning hypothesis. If I don’t ride my bike every day, I manage a five mile walk, climb 30 flights of stairs, or take a trip to the health club. I ain’t sittin’ around doin’ nothin’.

I have repeated the phrase, Use it or Lose it time and again in this blog. In this case, using the body promotes healthy mental processes as well as good physical results.

Tony

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Filed under aging, brain, Exercise, John J Ratey MD, memory, Spark

Does Exercise Reduce Our Chances of Alzheimer’s?

Regular readers know how strongly I feel about including exercise in our daily life. This is not just for weight control, but because our bodies are organic machines that need to move and be maintained. In addition, exercise also benefits the brain.

A study done at the Karolinska Institute found that seniors who had high glucose levels, but did not have diabetes, were 77 per cent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. The study took over nine years and covered 1173 individuals over the age of 75.

As reported in the book, Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, “As we age, insulin levels drop and glucose has a harder time getting into the cells to fuel them. Then glucose can skyrocket, which creates waste products in the cells – such as free radicals – and damages blood vessels, putting us at risk of a stroke and Alzheimer’s. When everything is balanced, insulin works against the buildup of amyloid plaque, but too much encourages the buildup, as well as inflammation, damaging surrounding neurons.

“Exercise increases levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) which regulates insulin in the body and improves synaptic plasticity in the brain. By drawing down surplus fuel, exercise also blosters our supply of BDNF, which is reduced by high glucose.”

Wikipedia says that In neuroscience, synaptic plasticity is the ability of the connection, or synapse, between two neurons to change in strength in response to either use or disuse of transmission over synaptic pathways. Plastic change also results from the alteration of the number of receptors located on a synapse. There are several underlying mechanisms that cooperate to achieve synaptic plasticity, including changes in the quantity of neurotransmitters released into a synapse and changes in how effectively cells respond to those neurotransmitters. Since memories are postulated to be represented by vastly interconnected networks of synapses in the brain, synaptic plasticity is one of the important neurochemical foundations of learning and memory.

BDNF is a crucial biological link between thought, emotions and movement.

So, it seems that exercise does in fact reduce our chances of Alzheimer’s. Eat less; move more; live longer.

Check out my Page – Important Facts About Your Brain (and Exercise Benefits) to read further on this subject.

Tony

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Can Exercise Help Me to Live Longer?

As I have written repeatedly in the blog, exercise is one of the keys to healthy aging as well as healthy living. Here is a super explanation of the impact of aerobic exercise on the cardiovascular system from the book Spark. You can read about it here by Dr. John Ratey, author of A User’s Guide to the Brain.

He says hopefully that when people come to accept that exercise is as important for the brain as it is for the heart they will commit to it.

Regarding the cardiovascular system, he writes, “A strong heart and lungs reduce resting blood pressure. The result is less strain on the vessels in the body and the brain. There are a number of mechanisms at work here.

“First, contracting muscles during exercise releases growth factors …. Aside from their in helping neurons bind and promoting neurogenesis, they trigger a molecular chain reaction that produces endolethial cells,which make up the inner lining of blood vessels and thus are important for building new ones. These inroads expand the vascular network, bringing each area of the brain that much closer to a lifeline and creating redundant circulation routes that protect against future blockages.
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Plato on Exercise

In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means man can attain perfection. Plato.

Frontispiece to Spark by John J. Ratey, MD With Eric Hagerman

Spark covers The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. Published by Little, Brown.

I have written repeatedly about the connection of exercise and the brain. Please check my Page – Important Facts About Your Brain (and Exercise Benefits).

Or simply click on the brain links in tags for more.

Tony

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Exercise Has Real Benefits for the Brain

The brain has similar needs to other organs. It needs glucose, oxygen and other nutrients. There are very real concrete benefits to exercising that directly affect the brain.

“I like to say that exercise is like taking a little Prozac or a little Ritalin at just the right moment,” says John J. Ratey, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of A User’s Guide to the Brain.spark-book

“Exercise is really for the brain, not the body. It affects mood, vitality, alertness, and feelings of well-being” according to WebMD.

The benefits of exercise on the brain include the following:
– One of the most exciting changes that exercise causes is neurogenesis, or the creation of new neurons. The new neurons are created in the hippocampus, the center of learning and memory in the brain, according to Oregon Health and Science University.

The course I am taking on Optimizing Brain Fitness
cites the following benefits:
– increased blood flow, oxygen and increased capillaries around neurons
– increased production of new neurons and more interconnections between them.
– protection of dopamine neurons from toxins in the environment
– leads to elevations in nerve growth factors.
– affects prefrontal executive processes, preferentially enhanced.
– brings about a positive balance in neurotransmitters just like in anti-depressants.

The Franklin Institute says that walking is especially good, because it increases blood circulation and the oxygen and glucose that reach your brain. Walking is not strenuous, so your leg muscles don’t take up extra oxygen and glucose like they do during other forms of exercise. As you walk, you effectively oxygenate your brain. Maybe this is why walking can “clear your head” and help you to think better.
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