Category Archives: Physical Exercise

Exercise, Brain And Heart

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Not only is exercise good for dealing with depression, but — as many of us would testify — it boosts happiness and contentment, as shown by a recent large scale review of exercise-related studies. The review combined 23 mostly observational studies published since 1980, combined involving over 500,000 people, of all ages and a wide range of socioeconomic and ethnic groups, and studied the relationship between their exercise and the their positive feelings (i.e., happiness).

Here are two media articles on the review:
Get moving to get happier, study finds
Even a Little Exercise Might Make Us Happier
Here is the research review:
A Systematic Review of the Relationship Between Physical Activity and Happiness

And there’s more. It’s likely that exercise can help middle-aged people reduce their risk of heart disease:
Middle-aged can reverse heart risk with exercise, study suggests

And exercise helps deal with chronic stress, even including the stress of advanced Alzheimer’s. Here are several media articles and research reports on the effect.

How Strenuous Exercise Affects Our Immune System
Meet the man living with Alzheimer’s who climbs the same mountain every day
Aerobic exercise for Alzheimer’s disease: A randomized controlled pilot trial

Running exercise mitigates the negative consequences of chronic stress on dorsal hippocampal long-term potentiation in male mice.

All links have been added to Health > Physical Exercise

Category: Physical Exercise

Exercise: Again & Again, Like Notorious RGB

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Boring? Sometimes. Worthwhile? Sure. Benefits while aging? Can be fantastic.

One of the sad and unpleasant effects of aging for a great many people is the gradual loss of muscle mass. But apparently it doesn’t have to be that way. Two studies of master athletes in their 60s and 80s show that such athletes preserve a greater number of “motor units” in their legs: pairs of muscle fibers together with neurons connecting them to the spinal cord. With age, there is a tendency for the neurons to die. In younger people, new neurons are generated to replace the ones that die. However, in older people, they are not replaced, leading to the death of the originally attached muscle fiber. Two studies of older master athletes show that serious exercise can resist this scenario.

Here are links to two media articles about the research on both 60- and 80-year old master athletes:
Can the inevitable age-related decrement in motor unit number and stability be out run?
Exercise Makes Our Muscles Work Better With Age
Here is a link to the research based on 60-year-olds:
Motor unit number estimates in masters runners: use it or lose it?
And here is a link to the research based on 80-year olds:
Motor unit number and transmission stability in octogenarian world class athletes

So — master-level athletes can maintain muscle mass. But, you say, they must spend an awful lot of time at it. Well sure, as the saying goes: No pain, no gain, including the pain of time spent. But what if you’ve gotten into middle or advanced age masquerading as a couch potato? Is it all over for you? Fortunately, not.

A recent media article describes how intense strength training, combined with good nutrition, can hold the line or even reverse it:
How to build muscle as age tears it down

Here’s the research report mentioned in the article above about counteracting muscle weakness and physical frailty in very elderly people by using high-intensity resistance exercise training:
Exercise Training and Nutritional Supplementation for Physical Frailty in Very Elderly People

And now for the inspiration! Ruth Bader Ginsburg (the notorious RGB) is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, is 85 years old, and works out twice-weekly in the Supreme Court gym with her personal trainer. “She attributes her long career as a liberal legal icon to the sweat time she puts in with her trainer.” Her trainer has written an “exercise along with RGB” book:
The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong . . . and You Can Too!

Here’s a media article about the book:
Get fit with the Ruth Bader Ginsburg workout

And just for fun, here’s a video of Stephen Colbert trying to workout out with the notorious RGB:
Colbert attempts Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s workout

All links have been added to Health > Physical Exercise

Too Many Hours Sitting Shrinks A Brain Memory Area

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The medial temporal lobe (MTL) includes the hippocampus, and is essential to the processing and storage of long-term memories. Recent research demonstrates that in people over 45, the number of hours spent sitting per day is inversely related to the thickness of the MTL. Crudely put, too many hours sitting can reduce your ability to remember. Since it is already known that sedentary behavior is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and premature death in middle-age and older adults, this most recent work adds another disturbing element to the argument against sitting too much.

While the research appears to show that physical activity, even at high levels, is insufficient to offset the harmful effects of sitting for extended periods, the work is preliminary in that the study focused on hours spent sitting, and did not take into consideration whether participants took breaks during long stretches of sedentary behavior. The researchers said that this could be a limitation of their results.

Here are links to two media articles on the work:
Sitting Too Much Can Change Your Brain & Impact Your Memory, A New Study Says
Too Much Sitting May Shrink the Part of Your Brain Tied to Memory
Here is a link to the research article:
Sedentary behavior associated with reduced medial temporal lobe thickness in middle-aged and older adults

All the links have been added to Aging, Physical Exercise, and Alzheimers > Risk Factors.

Conflict! New Neurons or Not?

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Do human brains keep generating new neurons in the hippocampus throughout life, or not?

Two studies, just published within a month of each other, come down on opposite sides of that question.

The first link below is a well-written media article discussing the two research papers and the possible grounds for the conflict:
Do Older Brains Make New Neurons or Not?

Next are a link to a media article on the “no-new-neurons” work, together with the research abstract:
Your brain stopped making new cells at age 13, study claims
Human hippocampal neurogenesis drops sharply in children to undetectable levels in adults

And here is a link to a media article on the “new-neurons-all-through-life” work, together with a link to the full research article:
Surprise! Scientists find signs of new brain cells in adults as old as 79
Human Hippocampal Neurogenesis Persists throughout Aging

Finally, to give rats their due, here are links to a media article and to the research article, on work showing that strong physical exercise causes rat brains to increase the rate at which new hippocampal neurons are created:
Physical exercise increases adult hippocampal neurogenesis in male rats provided it is aerobic and sustained.
Sustained aerobic exercise increases adult neurogenesis in brain

All the links have been added to Neuro-Psych.

Serious Exercise May Seriously Defer Aging

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We’ve previously posted a number of links in Health > Physical Exercise about the value of physical exercise, and more information about that value just keeps rolling in. And it’s not just physical benefits provided by exercise —- the second part of this post describes cognitive benefits from exercise. So choose some form of fairly intense exercise, and get with it!

Exercise In Old Age: Preserve The Immune System & Muscle Mass

Two recently reported studies show that serious exercise into the 80’s can maintain an immune system similar to a 20-year old’s, and can also significantly reduce loss of muscle mass. Here are two media articles about the studies:
How exercise in old age prevents the immune system from declining
A lifetime of regular exercise slows down aging, study finds

And here are the two original studies:
Major features of immunesenescence, including reduced thymic output, are ameliorated by high levels of physical activity in adulthood
Properties of the vastus lateralis muscle in relation to age and physiological function in master cyclists aged 55–79 years

Exercise To Delay Cognitive Decline

In the last several years, a number of studies have shown that typical cognitive decline due to aging can be delayed by exercise. Here are a links to a number of media articles dealing with groups of the research studies:
Intensive Exercise May Delay Cognitive Decline by 10 Years
xercise May Slow Down Brain Aging By 10 Years: Study
Taking The Stairs Can Slow Down Brain Aging: Study
Exercise May Slow Brain Aging by 10 Years for Older People
Exercise might slow rate of mental decline by 10 years for older people
Study: Exercise may slow mental decline by 10 years
Intensive Exercise May Delay Cognitive Decline by 10 Years

Here are links to the research articles:
Leisure-time physical activity associates with cognitive decline. The Northern Manhattan Study (Abstract)
Ideal Cardiovascular Health and Cognitive Aging in the Northern Manhattan Study
Differences between chronological and brain age are related to education and self-reported physical activity
Effect of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Performance in Older Adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment or Dementia: A Systematic Review

All the links mentioned in this post have been added to both
Health > Physical Exercise and Aging.

3 Good Things To Do For Your Brain: Exercise, Manage Blood Pressure, Brain Training

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The National Institute on Aging (NIA) commissioned the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to create an expert panel to review the evidence for interventions to prevent age-related cognitive decline and dementia. The panel found promising evidence that cognitive training, managing your blood pressure if you have hypertension, and increasing your physical activity can do much to reduce the risk of decline or dementia, even though they could not call for a widespread public campaign yet — more evidence will need to be accumulated. The panel’s report was published June 22, 2017.

Here are links to three articles about the report:
Expert Panel: Three Things May Save Your Brain

These few things may help stave off dementia, scientists say

Cognitive decline may be prevented using interventions but may be inadequate says report

And here are links to the abstract of the report together with the full report:
Abstract:
Preventing Cognitive Decline and Dementia: A Way Forward (Report At A Glance)

Published research (the complete report as pdf — upper right corner of page):
Preventing Cognitive Decline and Dementia: A Way Forward

All five links have been added to Alzheimer’s > Amelioration/Prevention

Bigger Brains (at least not Smaller)

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A study looking at 1,094 participants from the Framingham Heart Study shows that people who are more physically active in middle age tend to have larger brain volumes in later life.

The study participants were an average age of 40, with no signs of dementia or heart disease. They took a treadmill fitness test and underwent MRIs. Twenty years later, they underwent another treadmill test, along with MRI brain scans.

The estimates of brain volume were calculated based on measurements of oxygen used during treadmill tests, together with blood pressure and heart rate tests. Based on these estimates, people who were more active in their 40s tended to have larger brain volumes twenty years later.

Links to articles about the study and the study itself have been posted in Health > Physical Exercise:
People who exercise at middle age might have bigger brains later on
Exercise at middle age may keep brain bigger later in life
Better Fitness In Middle Age May Stop This Organ From Shrinking

Published research:
Midlife exercise blood pressure, heart rate, and fitness relate to brain volume 2 decades later

Science and Exercise

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Science is incredibly important.  Without it, we wouldn’t be very far out of the caves.   But one does not necessarily need formal science to make rational decisions and take sensible actions. Don’t get me wrong — formal medical and biological studies are immensely valuable and important. However, we don’t have to wait for a formal study to confirm many of the things we intuitively know from experience.  (And in fact, formal studies are increasing confirming the main points discussed below.)

High school coaches don’t need a collection of formal double-blind trials to know how to build school sports teams. At the beginning of fall (or spring) practice, they know that the young players will need strength and endurance, and that many of the players haven’t necessarily worked out (or worked jobs) over the summer or winter to build that strength and endurance. And so every day of practice typically begins with pushups, situps, kneebends, laps around the track, pushups, situps, knee bends, laps around the track, … you get the idea.

Coaches everywhere certainly get that idea, and their players initially ache and groan.  But then after a few weeks, the players tighten up and 50 pushups or two miles around the track, all in full gear, become simply a normal day’s event.

Other high school teachers have typically had similar ideas about strengthening their students’ minds, quite notably language teachers (say of Latin, French, German, Spanish, etc.) and math teachers, especially geometry teachers.  They and many other people in the education world have thought that mastering a language (yes, even Latin!) and/or  mastering geometry will strengthen thinking, never mind whether these things will directly help in getting a job later.

For a long period, those sorts of views of intellectual exercise — Latin and other languages, geometry, and all sorts of similar mental activities — fell out of educational favor, partly because they could not easily be subjected to formal controlled studies with  definable outcomes, whether those outcomes were functionally measurable behaviors or biologically-based measures — at that time it was just too hard to  get inside people’s skulls and count the neurons!.

But some surprising things have happened in the last 35 years. The development of sophisticated non-invasisve scanning techniques for soft tissue have effectively allowed researchers to open up our skulls and see at least a bit of what is going on inside. The biggest surprise is that the previous orthodoxy that  brain neurons are fixed by the end of adolescence and decline thereever after turned out not to be true. Neurogenesis is real! Under the right kinds of stimulus, the brain can and does regenerate neurons to replace others which may have been damaged. Sometimes it also appears to press other neurons (loafing nearby?) into such service. And part of the surprise is that our old Latin and geometry teachers have been vindicated: learning languages and acquiring intellectual and physical skills are the kinds of stimulae which push brains grow or rebuild themselves.  And so both mental and physical exercise turn out to be important throughout life.

We’ll return to all this in future posts.