1. Building mental toughness off the field: It’s all about practice

    June 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Miami press release:

    By the end of each academic semester, most college students struggle with a drop in attention spans and increased stress, especially student-athletes. Athletes know dedicated practice and physical training lead to excellence. Much less is known about mental training to deal with the psychological pressures of competitive athletics. One form of mental training, involving mindfulness, trains participants to focus attention on the present moment and observe one’s thoughts and feelings without emotional reactivity.

    A recent University of Miami study conducted in the laboratory of neuroscientist Amishi Jha, associate professor in the UM College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychology, asks if college football players can be trained to be mentally tough and resilient. The research paper titled, “‘We Are Talking About Practice’: the Influence of Mindfulness vs. Relaxation Training on Athletes’ Attention and Well-Being over High-Demand Intervals,” was recently published online in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement. Jha’s lab collaborated with mindfulness expert Scott Rogers, Miami Law professor and director of the Mindfulness in Law Program.

    “Our research suggests that the mind, like the body, needs regular mental exercise to keep it cognitively and emotionally fit. What struck us about these results is that both relaxation and mindfulness helped well-being, but only mindfulness training benefitted players’ attention — something student athletes need both on and off the field,” said Jha.

    Jha’s research team found that greater practice and program adherence in a mindfulness training program, but not a matched relaxation training program, leads to more stable attention and fewer attentional lapses in football players.

    The study’s first author, UM psychology Ph.D. candidate Joshua Rooks, knows first-hand how demanding the life of a football player can be. Rooks, a former college football player who practiced mindfulness during his time as a tight end for the Northwestern University Wildcats, joined Jha’s lab in 2012.

    In the current study, Rooks monitored the attention and emotional well-being of student-athletes on the UM football team over four weeks, during which Rogers delivered two matched training programs to player subgroups. One group of 56 players received mindfulness training (MT), while the other group made up of 44 players received relaxation training (RT). The players in the MT group participated in breathing exercises, body scans and mindful awareness sessions, while the RT group did relaxation exercises, place-guided imagery and listened to relaxing music. Players’ attention was measured using the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART), a test designed to promote mind wandering and measure attentional performance lapses. Their emotional well-being was measured by questionnaires about their mood, anxiety and depression levels.

    The four weeks of this project occurred during their pre-season training when players faced intensive demands, both academically and physically. Prior research found that during times of high demand, such as the academic semester and military pre-deployment training, students and soldiers experience degraded attention and emotional well-being. In this study, football players’ attention and emotional well-being degraded from the beginning to the end of the four weeks. Yet high adherence to the MT program, but not the RT program, protected athletes’ sustained attention. The study also found that greater engagement in both MT and RT protected against a decline in well-being and pointed to practice as the key to benefitting from MT program.

    Professional sports teams have long used relaxation training with players. Recently, some teams have also introduced mindfulness training. High performance psychology coach, Michael Gervais, who serves as an advisor to Jha’s lab for their work, has achieved success by offering mindfulness to pro-athletes, such as the Seattle Seahawks.

    “This is the type of research that moves the needle from theory to application. The hallmarks of elite performance within the most hostile environments are the ability to be tough minded, adjust to unpredictable demands, and to properly attend to the task at hand,” said Gervais.

    In addition to its potential to help athletes’ attention and well-being, mindfulness training has been examined in soldiers during their high-demand pre-deployment training intervals. Prior studies have found that these intervals deplete attention and degrade emotional well-being.

    “Research like this is very important as the Army explores mindfulness training as a possible enabler to Soldier readiness,” said Major General Walter E. Piatt, Commanding General for the 10th Mountain Division, and an advisory committee member of the Mindfulness Based Attention and Training (MBAT) Project in Jha’s lab.


  2. Light exposure in the evening improves performance in the final spurt

    June 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Universität Basel press release:

    Many sports events take place late in the evening, during television prime time. At this time of day, however, many athletes often fail to perform at their best due to their sleep-wake cycle. In a study headed by Professor Arno Schmidt-Trucksäss, Raphael Knaier and colleagues at the University of Basel investigated whether light exposure before a cycling time trial can compensate for this disadvantage. The Sports and Exercise Medicine division, as well as Professor Christian Cajochen at the Centre for Chronobiology, took part in this extensive investigation involving 74 young male athletes.

    It is well known that blue light reduces the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. The researchers tested the hypothesis that this suppression of melatonin could improve an athlete’s endurance during a 12-minute cycling time trial. They randomly divided the participants into three groups and exposed them to either bright light, blue monochromatic light or control light for an hour. This light exposure was immediately followed by the performance test on the bicycle ergometer.

    Bright light is less effective

    Exposure to blue light significantly improved the athletes’ ability to increase their performance during the final spurt of the time trial. This increase was defined as the ratio of the performance measured in the first minute to that of the last minute of the test. The subjects’ improved performance in the final spurt also correlated with the amount of blue light. This light was able to effectively suppress the melatonin and thus influence the athletes’ sleep-wake cycle.

    Compared to the control light, bright light led to a small increase in overall performance, but the difference was not significant. “Since even minor differences are relevant in top-level sport, however, this should be investigated more closely in further studies,” commented Professor Schmidt-Trucksäss.


  3. Rethinking exercise: Replace punishing workouts with movement that makes you happy

    June 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    Many women start fitness programs to lose weight, and when they don’t, they feel like failures and stop exercising.

    And then, months or a year later, they do the same thing again — creating a vicious cycle that fails to consider what might be leading to short-term motivation, says Michelle Segar, director of the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center.

    In a new study funded internally by the National Cancer Institute, Segar and co-investigators analyzed what women say makes them feel happy and successful, and how their expectations and beliefs about exercise foster or undermine those things.

    A new understanding of what really motivates women might make an enormous difference in their ability to successfully incorporate physical activity into their daily routine — and have fun doing it,” said Segar, who is also a researcher at the U-M Institute for Research on Women and Gender.

    The findings, which will appear in the journal BMC Public Health, show that both active and inactive women report the same ingredients for feeling happy and successful:

    Connecting with and helping others be happy and successful.

    Being relaxed and free of pressures during their leisure time. Accomplishing goals of many sorts (from grocery shopping to career goals).

    But the study also found that for inactive women, their beliefs and expectations about exercise actually thwarted the things that make them feel happy and successful:

    They believe “valid” exercise must be intense, yet they want to feel relaxed during their leisure time.

    They feel pressured to exercise for health or to lose weight, yet during their leisure time they want to be free of pressures. Success comes from achieving goals, yet their expectations about how much, where and how they should be exercising means they can’t achieve these goals.

    “The direct conflict between what these low-active women believe they should be doing when they exercise, and their desire to decompress and renew themselves during leisure time, demotivates them,” Segar said. “Their beliefs about what exercise should consist of and their past negative experiences about what it feels like actually prevents them from successfully adopting and sustaining physically active lives.”

    Segar and co-investigators Jennifer Taber, Heather Patrick, Chan Thai and April Oh conducted eight focus groups among white, black and Hispanic women aged 22-49 who were either categorized as “high active” or “low active.”

    While the findings about happiness and success seemed to hold true for both groups in the different demographics, low-active women held distinctly different views than high-active women about exercising.

    “We’ve all been socialized to exercise and be physically active for the last 30 years,” said Segar. “The traditional recommendation we’ve learned to believe is that we should exercise at a high intensity for at least 30 minutes, for the purpose of losing weight or improving our health. Even though there are newer recommendations that permit lower intensity activity in shorter durations most people don’t know or even believe it.”

    This more traditional message has worked for a small minority of the population, but more generally it has failed to increase population physical activity, she says.

    This traditional approach to exercising might actually harm exercise motivation. Our study shows that this exercise message conflicts with and undermines the very experiences and goals most women have for themselves,” she said.

    The exceptions found in the study were among the more active participants, who held more flexible views of exercise. They expressed that it “was not the end of the world” if they had to skip exercising once in awhile. They made exercise more of a “middle priority,” which took the pressure off and left room for compromise when schedules and responsibilities did not permit planned exercise to occur.

    The high-active women seemed to have more positive feelings from exercising, in contrast to most of the low-active women, who, in general, tended to dread the very idea of it.

    “There are important implications from this study on how we can help women better prioritize exercise in their day-to-day life,” Segar said. “We need to re-educate women they can move in ways that will renew instead of exhaust them, and more effectively get the message across that any movement is better than nothing. To increase motivation to be physically active, we need to help women to want to exercise instead of feeling like they should do it.”

    This can be achieved by:

    Re-educating women that movement can and should feel good to do.

    Promoting physical activity as a way to connect with important others.

    Reframing physical activity as a vehicle that helps women renew and re-energize themselves to better succeed at their daily roles and goals.

    Explain physical activity as a broad continuum that counts all movement as valid and worth doing.


  4. Study suggests tai chi may significantly reduce depression symptoms

    May 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Massachusetts General Hospital press release:

    A 12-week program of instruction and practice of the Chinese martial art tai chi led to significantly reduced symptoms of depression in Chinese Americans not receiving any other treatments. The pilot study conducted by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry enrolled members of Boston’s Chinese community who had mild to moderate depression.

    “While some previous studies have suggested that tai chi may be useful in treating anxiety and depression, most have used it as a supplement to treatment for others’ medical conditions, rather than patients with depression,” explains Albert Yeung, MD, ScD, of the Depression Clinical and Research Program in the MGH Department of Psychiatry, lead and corresponding author of the report. “Finding that tai chi can be effective is particularly significant because it is culturally accepted by this group of patients who tend to avoid conventional psychiatric treatment.”

    Participants were recruited through advertisements offering tai chi for stress reduction, and their eligibility for the study was determined based on in-person interviews and assessments of overall health and depression symptoms. Eligible participants were Chinese-American adults fluent in either Cantonese or Mandarin, with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder in the mild to moderate range, no history of other psychiatric disorders, no recent practice of tai chi or other mind-body interventions, and no current use of other psychiatric treatments.

    Participants were randomized into three groups — one that received the tai chi intervention; an active control group that participated in educational sessions that included discussions on stress, mental health and depression; and a passive control, “waitlist” group that returned for repeat assessments during and after the study period. The tai chi intervention involved twice weekly sessions for 12 weeks, in which participants were taught and practiced basic traditional tai chi movements. They were asked to practice at home three times a week and to document their practice. The education group also met twice weekly for 12 weeks, and sessions for both groups were offered in Cantonese or Mandarin. Members of both the education and waitlist groups were able to join free tai chi classes after the initial study period, something they were informed of at the study’s outset.

    Of the 50 participants who completed the 12-week intervention period, 17 were in the tai chi group, 14 in the education group and 19 in the waitlist group. The 12-week assessments showed that the tai chi group had significantly greater improvement in depression symptoms than did members of either control group. Follow-up assessment at 24 weeks showed sustained improvement among the tai chi group, with statistically significant differences remaining compared with the waitlist group.

    “If these findings are confirmed in larger studies at other sites, that would indicate that tai chi could be a primary depression treatment for Chinese and Chinese American patients, who rarely take advantage of mental health services, and may also help address the shortage of mental health practitioners,” says Yeung, who is an associate professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “We also should investigate whether tai chi can have similar results for individuals from other racial and ethnic groups and determine which of the many components of tai chi might be responsible for these beneficial effects.”


  5. Being more active in school lessons can improve performance in tests

    May 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Leeds Beckett University press release:

    Children who take part in lessons which include physical activity show an increase in health-enhancing physical activity and academic performance, according to research carried out by Leeds Beckett University.

    A team led by Senior Lecturer Andy Daly-Smith evaluated the impact of Tagtiv8 maths lessons on physical activity and maths performance. Children from a primary school in Leeds were randomly allocated to groups; taking part in either a seated classroom lesson or a Tagitv8 active learning lesson.

    The minutes in each lesson spent in sedentary activity and moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) were assessed using accelerometers. Academic achievement was assessed before and after the lessons using the Maths Addition, Subtraction, Speed and Accuracy Test (MASSAT) and the Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT).

    Commenting on the results of the tests, Andy Daly-Smith said: “The results showed that pupils who took part in the Tagtiv8 lesson achieved over nine minutes more MPVA compared to the traditional classroom lesson and spent 15 minutes less in sedentary time.

    “When it came to assessing whether active learning led to better academic outcomes we saw promising results. Overall, there were small improvements for pupils who learnt in an active way. Further, those pupils who were most active in the Tagtiv8 lessons seemed to have the greatest benefits which suggests activity may play a key role in enhancing learning. Additionally, lower ability children, who took part in the Tagtiv8 lesson maintained their academic performance whereas pupils in the traditional classroom lesson decreased.

    “There is strong evidence to support the implementation of Tagtiv8 lessons to increase physical activity during traditional classroom lesson time. One 45-minute Tagtiv8 lesson can provide children with 10 minutes MPVA which is one third of the 30-minute in school Obesity Plan physical activity recommendation.

    “We would now like to seek funding to assess the impact of the Tagtiv8 active learning programme over a school year. It would be great to see if small improvements accumulated over time could lead to substantial improvements in the longer term, especially for those who are most in need.”


  6. Exercising can protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease

    May 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus press release:

    The evidence is clear. Physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, says a panel of researchers and not-for-profit leaders, led by UBC’s Okanagan campus.

    The researchers also confirmed that regular physical activity may improve the performance of daily activities for people afflicted with Alzheimer’s. Their conclusions may have significant implications for the 1.1 million Canadians affected directly or indirectly by dementia.

    “As there is no current cure for Alzheimer’s, there is an urgent need for interventions to reduce the risk of developing it and to help manage the symptoms,” says study first author Kathleen Martin Ginis, professor in UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences. “After evaluating all the research available, our panel agrees that physical activity is a practical, economical and accessible intervention for both the prevention and management of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.”

    Martin Ginis and her cohort reviewed data from more than 150 research articles about the impact of physical activity on people with Alzheimer’s. Some of the work explored how physical activity improves the patient’s quality of life and the others examined the risk of developing Alzheimer’s based on the amount of activity in which an individual participated.

    The panel concluded that regular physical activity improves activities of daily living and mobility in in older adults with Alzheimer’s and may improve general cognition and balance. They also established that older adults not diagnosed with Alzheimer’s who are physically active, were significantly less likely to develop the disease compared to people who were inactive.

    “This is exciting work,” says Martin Ginis. “From here we were able to prepare a consensus statement and messaging which not only has community backing, but is also evidence-based. Now we have the tool to promote the protective benefit of physical activity to older adults. I’m hopeful this will move the needle on this major health concern.”

    Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, characterized by progressive neurodegeneration that results in severe cognitive impairment, compromised physical ability and loss of independence. The number of worldwide cases is expected to increase from 30.8 million in 2010 to more than 106 million in 2050.


  7. Study suggests exercise can help with boosting mood

    May 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Connecticut press release:

    You don’t have to spend hours at the gym or work up a dripping sweat to improve your mood and feel better about yourself, researchers at the University of Connecticut say in a new study.

    If you lead a sedentary lifestyle — spending large parts of your day sitting at home or at work — simply getting out of your chair and moving around can reduce depression and lift your spirits.

    “We hope this research helps people realize the important public health message that simply going from doing no physical activity to performing some physical activity can improve their subjective well-being,” says Gregory Panza, a graduate student in UConn’s Department of Kinesiology and the study’s lead author.

    “What is even more promising for the physically inactive person is that they do not need to exercise vigorously to see these improvements,” Panza continues. “Instead, our results indicate you will get the best ‘bang for your buck’ with light or moderate intensity physical activity.”

    For those keeping score, light physical activity is the equivalent of taking a leisurely walk around the mall with no noticeable increase in breathing, heart rate, or sweating, says Distinguished Kinesiology Professor Linda Pescatello, senior researcher on the project. Moderate intensity activity is equivalent to walking a 15-20-minute mile with an increase in breathing, heart rate, and sweating, yet still being able to carry on a conversation. Vigorous activity is equivalent to a very brisk walk or jogging a 13-minute mile with a very noticeable increase in breathing, heart rate, and sweating to the point of being unable to maintain a conversation.

    The study looked at 419 generally healthy middle-aged adults who wore accelerometers on their hips to track physical activity over four days. Participants also completed a series of questionnaires asking them to describe their daily exercise habits, psychological well-being, depression level, pain severity, and extent to which pain interfered with their daily activities.

    Here’s what the researchers learned:

    • People who reported higher levels of sedentary behavior also reported lower levels of subjective well-being, meaning those who sat around a lot were the least happiest. Subjective well-being is defined as the positive and negative evaluations that people make of their own lives. These results confirmed previous studies.
    • In general, physical activity improved people’s sense of well-being. Yet, different intensities of physical activity were more beneficial to some people than others. For instance, people who participated in light-intensity physical activity reported higher levels of psychological well-being and lower levels of depression. People who participated in moderate-intensity physical activity reported higher levels of psychological well-being and lower levels of pain severity.
    • People who led sedentary lives and engaged in light or moderate physical activity showed the greatest improvement in overall sense of well-being. “The ‘more is better’ mindset may not be true when it comes to physical activity intensity and subjective well-being,” says Panza. “In fact, an ‘anything is better’ attitude may be more appropriate if your goal is a higher level of subjective well-being.”
    • While light and moderate physical activity clearly made some people feel better about themselves, when it came to vigorous activity, the results were neutral. There was no positive or negative association found between high intensity physical activity and subjective well-being.

    The last finding is actually good news for folks who enjoy hard, calorie-burning workouts, as it doesn’t support a widely reported recent study that found high intensity workouts significantly lowered some people’s sense of well-being.

    “Recent studies had suggested a slightly unsettling link between vigorous activity and subjective well-being,” says Beth Taylor, associate professor of kinesiology and another member of the research team. “We did not find this in the current study, which is reassuring to individuals who enjoy vigorous activity and may be worried about negative effects.”

    Many previous studies have attempted to identify the best exercise regimen to improve people’s sense of well-being. Yet no clear consensus has emerged. Some studies say moderate or vigorous activity is best. Others say low intensity exercise is better. The differences, the UConn researchers say, may be due to the way the studies were designed and possible limitations in how people’s well-being and levels of physical activity were measured.

    The UConn study is believed to be the first of its kind to use both objective (accelerometers) and subjective (questionnaires) measurements within a single group to examine the relationship between physical activity intensity and well-being.

    Yet the UConn research also has its limits, Panza says.

    All of the individuals who participated in the UConn study had a generally positive sense of well-being going into the project and were generally physically active. So their answers in the questionnaires need to be framed in that context. Whether the same results would hold true for people with lower subjective well-being or lower levels of physical activity is unknown, Panza says.

    Also, the conclusions formed in the UConn study are based on information gathered at a single point in time. A longitudinal study that tracks people’s feelings and physical activity over time would go a long way toward helping determine what exercise regimen might be best for different populations, Panza said.

    “If it doesn’t make us feel good, we don’t want to do it,” says Taylor. “Establishing the link between different types, doses, and intensities of physical activity on well-being is a very important step in encouraging more people to exercise.”

    The study was published in the Journal of Health Psychology in February.


  8. Exercise study offers hope in fight against Alzheimer’s

    May 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Maryland press release:

    Could the initiation of a simple walking exercise program help older adults to reverse declines in key brain regions? A new study led by University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers adds more information about how physical activity impacts brain physiology and offers hope that it may be possible to reestablish some protective neuronal connections. Dr. J. Carson Smith, associate professor of kinesiology, and colleagues explored how a 12-week walking intervention with older adults, ages 60-88, affected functionality of a brain region known to show declines in people suffering from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or Alzheimer’s disease.

    “The brain’s posterior cingulate cortex (PCC)/precuneus region is a hub of neuronal networks which integrates and disperses signals,” explains Dr. J. Carson Smith, senior author of the paper published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and director of the Exercise for Brain Health Laboratory. “We know that a loss of connectivity to this hub is associated with memory loss and amyloid accumulation, both signs of MCI and Alzheimer’s.”

    For this reason, reduced connectivity to the PCC/precuneus region is seen as a potential biomarker to detect cognitive impairment even before symptoms of MCI or AD may appear. It is also a potential target to test the effectiveness of interventions such as exercise to improve brain function in those exhibiting symptoms of MCI.

    Dr. Smith’s research team recruited two groups — one with 16 healthy elders and another with 16 elders diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment to participate in an exercise intervention that included walking for 30 minutes, four times a week (at 50-60 % of heart rate reserve) for three months.

    Before and after the exercise intervention, participants in both groups underwent fMRI brain scans to assess functional connectivity between multiple brain regions and the PCC/precuneus. After completing the intervention, both groups showed improved ability to remember a list of words; however only the MCI group showed increased connectivity to the PCC/precuneus hub, which was evident in 10 regions spanning the frontal, parietal, temporal and insular lobes, and the cerebellum.

    “These findings suggest that the protective effects of exercise training on cognition may be realized by the brain re-establishing communication and connections among the brain’s so-called default mode network, which may possibly increase the capacity to compensate for the neural pathology associated with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Smith.

    While it is unclear yet whether the effects of exercise training can delay further cognitive decline in patients diagnosed with MCI, the neural network connectivity changes documented in this study provide hope that exercise training may stimulate brain plasticity and restore communication between brain regions that may have been lost through Alzheimer’s disease. The specificity of these effects in the MCI group further suggest that exercise may be particularly useful in those who have already experienced mild memory loss. Future studies planned by Dr. Smith’s team aim to include exercise control conditions, and to incorporate exercise combined with cognitive engagement, among healthy older adults who are at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease.


  9. Brain tissue structure could explain link between fitness and memory

    May 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign press release:

    Studies have suggested a link between fitness and memory, but researchers have struggled to find the mechanism that links them. A new study by University of Illinois researchers found that the key may lie in the microstructure of the hippocampus, a region in the middle of the brain involved in memory processes.

    Aron Barbey, a professor of psychology, led a group of researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at Illinois that used a specialized MRI technique to measure the structural integrity of the hippocampus in healthy young adults and correlated it with their performances on fitness and memory tests. They found that viscoelasticity, a measure of structural integrity in brain tissue, was correlated with fitness and memory performance — much more so than simply looking at the size of the hippocampus.

    “Using a new tool to examine the integrity of the hippocampus in healthy young adults could tell us more about how this region functions and how to predict decline for early intervention,” Barbey said. “By the time we look at diseased states, it’s often too late.”

    Prior research led by Illinois psychology professor Neal Cohen, who is also a co-author on the new paper, demonstrated that the hippocampus is critical for relational memory and that the integrity of this region predicts a host of neurodegenerative diseases. To date, much research on the hippocampus’ structure has focused on its size.

    Studies in developing children and declining older adults have found strong correlations between hippocampal size and memory. However, size does not seem to matter as much in healthy young adults, said postdoctoral researcher Hillary Schwarb. The Illinois group looked instead at the microstructure of the tissue, using an emerging neuroimaging tool called magnetic resonance elastography. The method involves an MRI scan, but with a pillow under the subject’s head vibrating at a very low amplitude — as gentle as driving on the interstate, Schwarb said. The vibration is the key to measuring the structural integrity of the hippocampus.

    “It’s a lot like sending ripples through a still pond — if there’s some large thing like a boulder under the surface, the ripples are going to displace around it,” Schwarb said. “We are sending waves through the brain and reconstructing the displacements into a map we can look at and measure.”

    The study, published in the journal NeuroImage, found that those who performed better on the fitness test tended to also perform better on the memory task, confirming a correlation the group had noticed before. But by adding the information on the structure of the hippocampus, the researchers were able to find a possible pathway for the link. They found that the subjects with higher fitness levels also had more elastic tissue in the hippocampus. The tissue structure, in turn, was associated with memory.

    “We found that when the hippocampus is more elastic, memory is better. An elastic hippocampus is like a firm foam mattress pad that pops right back up after you get up,” said study co-author Curtis Johnson, a former graduate researcher at the Beckman Institute who is now a professor at the University of Delaware. “When the hippocampus is more viscous, memory is worse. A viscous hippocampus is like a memory-foam mattress that holds its shape even after you get up.”

    The results suggest that the viscoelasticity of the hippocampus may be the mediating factor in the relationship between fitness and memory in healthy young adults.

    “It also shows us that magnetic resonance elastography is a useful tool for understanding tissue microstructure, and that microstructure is important to cognition,” Schwarb said. “This provides us a new level of analysis for studying the human brain.”


  10. Aerobic, resistance exercise combo can boost brain power of over 50s

    May 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the BMJ press release:

    A combination of aerobic and resistance exercises can significantly boost the brain power of the over 50s, finds the most comprehensive review of the available evidence to date, published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

    And the effects were evident irrespective of the current state of an individual’s brain health, the analysis shows.

    Physical exercise for older adults is seen as a promising means of warding off or halting a decline in brain health and cognitive abilities. Yet the evidence for its benefits is inconclusive, largely because of overly restrictive inclusion criteria in the reviews published to date, say the researchers.

    In a bid to try and plug some of thes
    e gaps, they systematically reviewed 39 relevant studies published up to the end of 2016 to assess the potential impact of varying types, intensities, and durations of exercise on the brain health of the over 50s.

    They included aerobic exercise; resistance training (such as weights); multi-component exercise, which contains elements of both aerobic and resistance training; tai chi; and yoga in their analysis.

    They analysed the potential impact of these activities on overall brain capacity (global cognition); attention (sustained alertness, including the ability to process information rapidly); executive function (processes responsible for goal oriented behaviours); memory (storage and retrieval); and working memory (short term application of found information).

    Pooled analysis of the data showed that exercise improves the brain power of the over 50s, irrespective of the current state of their brain health.

    Aerobic exercise significantly enhanced cognitive abilities while resistance training had a pronounced effect on executive function, memory, and working memory.

    The evidence is strong enough to recommend prescribing both types of exercise to improve brain health in the over 50s, say the researchers.

    The data showed that tai chi also improved cognitive abilities, which backs the findings of previously published studies, but the analysis was based on just a few studies, caution the researchers, so will need to be confirmed in a large clinical trial.

    Nevertheless, it’s an important finding, they suggest, because exercises like tai chi may be suitable for people who are unable to do more challenging forms of physical activity.

    And in terms of how much and how often, the data analysis showed that a session lasting between 45 and 60 minutes, of moderate to vigorous intensity, and of any frequency, was good for brain health.

    The researchers point to some potential limitations of their review: their evidence was confined only to studies of supervised exercise and which had been published in English.

    Nevertheless, they conclude: “The findings suggest that an exercise programme with components of both aerobic and resistance type training, of at least moderate intensity and at least 45 minutes per session, on as many days of the week as possible, is beneficial to cognitive function in adults aged over 50.”