Even Brief Workouts Quickly Improve Memory Function

Exercise has numerous benefits, and more and more continues to be found about how valuable consistent exercise is. Having a stronger memory will often improve performance in a variety of ways, and thus this research should give people more motivation to workout more.

People who include a little yoga or tai chi in their day may be more likely to remember where they put their keys. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine and Japan’s University of Tsukuba found that even very light workouts can increase the connectivity between parts of the brain responsible for memory formation and storage.

In a study of 36 healthy young adults, the researchers discovered that a single 10-minute period of mild exertion can yield considerable cognitive benefits. Using high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging, the team examined subjects’ brains shortly after exercise sessions and saw better connectivity between the hippocampal dentate gyrus and cortical areas linked to detailed memory processing.

Their results were published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The hippocampus is critical for the creation of new memories; it’s one of the first regions of the brain to deteriorate as we get older — and much more severely in Alzheimer’s disease,” said project co-leader Michael Yassa, UCI professor and Chancellor’s Fellow of neurobiology & behavior. “Improving the function of the hippocampus holds much promise for improving memory in everyday settings.”

The neuroscientists found that the level of heightened connectivity predicted the degree of recall enhancement.

Yassa, director of UCI’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and the recently launched UCI Brain Initiative, said that while prior research has centered on the way exercise promotes the generation of new brain cells in memory regions, this new study demonstrates a more immediate impact: strengthened communication between memory-focused parts of the brain.

“We don’t discount the possibility that new cells are being born, but that’s a process that takes a bit longer to unfold,” he said. “What we observed is that these 10-minute periods of exercise showed results immediately afterward.”

A little bit of physical activity can go a long way, Yassa stressed. “It’s encouraging to see more people keeping track of their exercise habits — by monitoring the number of steps they’re taking, for example,” he said. “Even short walking breaks throughout the day may have considerable effects on improving memory and cognition.”

Yassa and his colleagues at UCI and at the University of Tsukuba are extending this avenue of research by testing older adults who are at greater risk of age-related mental impairment and by conducting long-term interventions to see if regular, brief, light exercise done daily for several weeks or months can have a positive impact on the brain’s structure and function in these subjects.

Study: Leg Exercise is Crucial to Brain and Nervous System Health

The relation between having both a strong mind and body is shown again, this time with reasoning as to why leg day shouldn’t be skipped at the gym.

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 today 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.

“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.

The study involved restricting mice from using their hind legs, but not their front legs, over a period of 28 days. The mice continued to eat and groom normally and did not exhibit stress. At the end of the trial, the researchers examined an area of the brain called the sub-ventricular zone, which in many mammals has the role of maintaining nerve cell health. It is also the area where neural stem cells produce new neurons.

Limiting physical activity decreased the number of neural stem cells by 70 percent compared to a control group of mice, which were allowed to roam. Furthermore, both neurons and oligodendrocytes — specialized cells that support and insulate nerve cells — didn’t fully mature when exercise was severely reduced.

The research shows that using the legs, particularly in weight-bearing exercise, sends signals to the brain that are vital for the production of healthy neural cells, essential for the brain and nervous system. Cutting back on exercise makes it difficult for the body to produce new nerve cells — some of the very building blocks that allow us to handle stress and adapt to challenge in our lives.

“It is no accident that we are meant to be active: to walk, run, crouch to sit, and use our leg muscles to lift things,” says Adami. “Neurological health is not a one-way street with the brain telling the muscles ‘lift,’ ‘walk,’ and so on.”

The researchers gained more insight by analyzing individual cells. They found that restricting exercise lowers the amount of oxygen in the body, which creates an anaerobic environment and alters metabolism. Reducing exercise also seems to impact two genes, one of which, CDK5Rap1, is very important for the health of mitochondria — the cellular powerhouse that releases energy the body can then use. This represents another feedback loop.

These results shed light on several important health issues, ranging from concerns about cardio-vascular impacts as a result of sedentary lifestyles to insight into devastating diseases, such as spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), multiple sclerosis, and motor neuron disease, among others.

Physical Activity Tentatively Linked to Positive Mental Health in New Study

Exercise’s notable effect on reducing negative mental health problems should be more widely known, but this new study tries to examine whether there’s a similarity between exercise’s effects on negative and positive mental health. Scientifically, even walking produces endorphins, which lends credence to the phrase “Walk it off” after experiencing a painful physical sensation.

Physical activity has long been known to reduce depression and anxiety, and is commonly prescribed to prevent or cure negative mental health conditions.

However, less is known about the impact of physical activity on positive mental health conditions, such as happiness and contentment.

Weiyun Chen, University of Michigan associate professor in kinesiology, wanted to know if exercise increased positive mental health in the same way it reduced negative mental health. Specifically, researchers examined which aspects of physical activity were associated with happiness, and which populations were likely to benefit from the effects.

To that end, Chen and co-author Zhanjia Zhang, a doctoral student, reviewed 23 studies on happiness and physical activity. The 15 observational studies all showed a positive direct or indirect association between happiness and exercise. The eight interventional studies showed inconsistent results.

The studies included health information from thousands of adults, seniors, adolescents, children, and cancer survivors from several countries. A couple themes emerged.

“Our findings suggest the physical activity frequency and volume are essential factors in the relationship between physical activity and happiness,” Chen said. “More importantly, even a small change of physical activity makes a difference in happiness.”

Findings suggest a threshold effect for the relationship of happiness and physical activity — several studies found that happiness levels were the same whether people exercised 150-300 minutes a week, or more than 300 minutes a week.

Specifics: Active and happy?

The review of observational studies found that compared to inactive people, the odds ratio of being happy was 20, 29 and 52 percent higher for people who were insufficiently active, sufficiently active, or very active, respectively.

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More details can be found in the study, “A systematic review of the relationship between physical activity and happiness,” which was published online March 24 by the Journal of Happiness Studies.

Research: Everyday Exercise Has Surprisingly Positive Health Benefits

It should be obvious to more people than it is, and it extends beyond the scope of the study.

The benefits of low-intensity physical activity, such as standing, walking or doing household chores, can be more health beneficial than once thought. According to a study from Karolinska Institutet published in the journal Clinical Epidemiology, replacing half an hour’s sedentariness a day with everyday activity reduces the risk of fatal cardiovascular disease by 24 per cent.

Cardiovascular diseases are the primary cause of death in Sweden, and while it is known that moderate to intense physical activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, the benefits of low-intensity activity have yet to be agreed upon.

For the present study, the researchers analysed how different levels of physical activity in 1,200 people across Sweden affected the mortality rate due to cardiovascular disease (amongst other causes) 15 years later. Data were gathered from the ABC (Attitude, Behaviour and Change) study, in which the activity level of the participants is measured using motion trackers, and compared them with data on deaths and causes of death from Swedish registries.

“This is a unique study, since we’ve been able to analyse a large number of people with objective measures of physical activity for up to 15 years,” says study leader Maria Hagströmer, senior lecturer at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society. “Previous studies asked participants about levels of physical activity, but this can lead to reporting error since it’s hard to remember exactly for how long one has been sitting and moving around.”

The study shows that there are considerable health benefits to be gained not only from moderate or intense physical activity but also from low-intensity (everyday) activity. Replacing half an hour’s sedentariness a day with such low-level activity can reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by an estimated 24 per cent.

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“In an earlier study, we also showed that people who sit still for more than 10 hours a day have a 2.5 times higher risk of early death than people who sit for less than 6.5 hours a day,” says first author Ing-Mari Dohrn, postdoc at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society.

Unfinished Coverage of the Obesity Epidemic

The statistics on the epidemic of too many people being obese and overweight are disturbing. There are reports finding that — within a decade — the number of people who will be overweight or obese will be about a third of Earth’s total human population. That makes it a significant issue of public health costs, but it’s unsurprising that the corporate mass media hasn’t given this (or a number of other problems) much coverage. The latest idiocy appearing out of today’s Oval Office is too often granted precedence instead.

As is the case frequently enough, the United States provides an extreme example of this world trend of rising obesity rates. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the American obesity epidemic is at a record high, with almost 40 percent of adults being considered obese. Over two thirds of Americans were also found to be overweight or obese, and of those, about a fifth of American adolescents fit in the obese range.

The costs associated with the American obesity problem have been estimated at $190 billion annually, or an amount that’s about 1 percent of GDP and nearly twice the annual budget of the Department of Education. This amount may of course rise even higher if obesity rates continue expanding.

While the costs are difficult to quantify, as it’s difficult to truly attach monetary costs to the overall well-being of livelihoods, there’s ample evidence to conclude that a lot of people being too overweight is a serious problem. It’s therefore time to more actively discuss solutions.

For starters, all products containing sugar could be required to have a daily recommended limit of 50 grams of sugar labeled on the package. That’s about the amount of sugar the World Health Organization recommends people limit themselves to daily. The sugar industry has of course tried to prevent these sorts of labels, as they represent a threat to their profits — even as the lack of them continues to take its toll on public health.

Beyond sugar being “empty calories,” there is bitter proof that an excess consumption of sugar has inherently negative effects. An overabundance of sugar consumption accelerates the decay of teeth, often causes undesirable weight gain, raises risks for a lot of diseases, and presents problems from potential cognitive damage to a higher chance of developing various consequential health conditions. A study recently released even discovered a correlation between sugar intake and worsened outcomes from cancer. The study’s lead researcher said that “Our research reveals how the hyperactive sugar consumption of cancerous cells leads to a vicious cycle of continued stimulation of cancer development and growth.”

The important point about sugar being raised, it’s also worth noting that the direct cause of weight gain is typically the continual intake of more calories than is burned off. A pound of fat is about 3500 calories, so the excess consumption of those is obviously contributing to more pounds. What a lot of people do not realize though is that a pound of muscle burns a higher amount of calories than a pound of fat does, even at rest. Aerobic exercise (such as running) is regularly seen as a way of losing weight, but anaerobic exercise (such as doing pushups) is primarily what will create the muscles that could prevent a lot of weight gain to begin with.

Exercise Can Reverse Damage Caused by Heart Aging

Another one of the benefits of exercise reveals itself.

Exercise can reverse damage to sedentary, aging hearts and help prevent risk of future heart failure — if it’s enough exercise, and if it’s begun in time, according to a new study by cardiologists at UT Southwestern and Texas Health Resources.

To reap the most benefit, the exercise regimen should begin by late middle age (before age 65), when the heart apparently retains some plasticity and ability to remodel itself, according to the findings by researchers at the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine (IEEM), which is a collaboration between UT Southwestern Medical Center and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.

And the exercise needs to be performed four to five times a week. Two to three times a week was not enough, the researchers found in an earlier study.

“Based on a series of studies performed by our team over the past 5 years, this ‘dose’ of exercise has become my prescription for life,” said senior author Dr. Benjamin Levine, Director of the Institute and Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern. “I think people should be able to do this as part of their personal hygiene — just like brushing your teeth and taking a shower.”

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Sedentary aging can lead to a stiffening of the muscle in the heart’s left ventricle, the chamber that pumps oxygen-rich blood back out to the body, he explained.

“When the muscle stiffens, you get high pressure and the heart chamber doesn’t fill as well with blood. In its most severe form, blood can back up into the lungs. That’s when heart failure develops,” said Dr. Levine, who holds the S. Finley Ewing Chair for Wellness at Texas Health Dallas and the Harry S. Moss Heart Chair for Cardiovascular Research. He also holds the Distinguished Professorship in Exercise Sciences at UT Southwestern, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

Earlier research by UT Southwestern cardiologists showed that left ventricular stiffening often shows up in middle age in people who don’t exercise and aren’t fit, leaving them with small, stiff chambers that can’t pump blood as well.

However, the researchers also found that the heart chamber in competitive masters-level athletes remains large and elastic, and that even four to five days of committed exercise over decades is enough for noncompetitive athletes to reap most of this benefit.

Air Pollution Exposure to Adults Over 60 is Found to Cancel Health Benefits of Exercise for Them

Reason #5533 for the world to use energy sources other than fossil fuels.

Exposure to air pollution on city streets is enough to counter the beneficial health effects of exercise in older adults, according to new research.

The findings, published in The Lancet, show that short term exposure to air pollution in built up areas like London’s busy Oxford Street can prevent the positive effects on the heart and lungs that can be gained from walking.

According to the research, led by Imperial College London and Duke University, the findings add to the growing body of evidence showing the negative impacts of urban air pollution on cardiovascular and respiratory health. The authors say the effects could potentially apply to other age groups as well and highlight the need for stricter air quality limits and greater access to green spaces.

Previous research has found that diesel exhaust fumes, particularly fine particulate matter air pollution, has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death, and can cause a worsening of diseases of the airways, such as asthma.

The latest study, funded by the British Heart Foundation, is the first to show the negative effects on healthy people, people with a chronic lung condition linked with smoking called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and those with coronary heart disease — which affects the supply of blood to the heart.

“These findings are important as for many people, such as the elderly or those with chronic disease, very often the only exercise they can do is to walk,” said senior author Fan Chung, Professor of Respiratory Medicine and Head of Experimental Studies Medicine at National Heart & Lung Institute at Imperial College London. “Our research suggests that we might advise older adults to walk in green spaces, away from built-up areas and pollution from traffic,” he added.