1. Study suggests high-intensity exercise boosts memory

    December 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the McMaster University press release:

    The health advantages of high-intensity exercise are widely known but new research from McMaster University points to another major benefit: better memory.

    The findings could have implications for an aging population which is grappling with the growing problem of catastrophic diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

    Scientists have found that six weeks of intense exercise–short bouts of interval training over the course of 20 minutes–showed significant improvements in what is known as high-interference memory, which, for example, allows us to distinguish our car from another of the same make and model.

    The study is published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

    The findings are important because memory performance of the study participants, who were all healthy young adults, increased over a relatively short period of time, say researchers.

    They also found that participants who experienced greater fitness gains also experienced greater increases in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports the growth, function and survival of brain cells.

    “Improvements in this type of memory from exercise might help to explain the previously established link between aerobic exercise and better academic performance,” says Jennifer Heisz, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster and lead author of the study.

    “At the other end of our lifespan, as we reach our senior years, we might expect to see even greater benefits in individuals with memory impairment brought on by conditions such as dementia,” she says.

    For the study, 95 participants completed six weeks of exercise training, combined exercise and cognitive training or no training (the control group which did neither and remained sedentary). Both the exercise and combined training groups improved performance on a high-interference memory task, while the control group did not.

    Researchers measured changes in aerobic fitness, memory and neurotrophic factor, before and after the study protocol.

    The results reveal a potential mechanism for how exercise and cognitive training may be changing the brain to support cognition, suggesting that the two work together through complementary pathways of the brain to improve high-interference memory.

    Researchers have begun to examine older adults to determine if they will experience the same positive results with the combination of exercise and cognitive training.

    “One hypothesis is that we will see greater benefits for older adults given that this type of memory declines with age,” says Heisz. “However, the availability of neurotrophic factors also declines with age and this may mean that we do not get the synergistic effects.”


  2. Brains of children with a better physical fitness possess a greater volume of gray matter

    by Ashley

    From the University of Granada press release:

    Researchers from the University of Granada (UGR) have proven, for the first time in history, that physical fitness in children may affect their brain structure, which in turn may have an influence on their academic performance.

    More specifically, the researchers have confirmed that physical fitness in children (especially aerobic capacity and motor ability) is associated with a greater volume of gray matter in several cortical and subcortical brain regions.

    In particular, aerobic capacity has been associated with greater gray matter volume in frontal regions (premotor cortex and supplementary motor cortex), subcortical regions (hippocampus and caudate nucleus), temporal regions (inferior temporal gyrus and parahippocampal gyrus) and the calcarine cortex. All of those regions are important for the executive function as well as for learning, motor and visual processes.

    This study has been published in the Neuroimage journal and is part of the ActiveBrains project, which is a randomized clinical trial involving more than 100 overweight/obese children led by Francisco B. Ortega. Said project is being carried out mainly at the University of Granada’s Sport and Health Institute (IMUDS, from its abbreviation in Spanish) and the Mind, Brain and Behavior Research Center (CIMCYC).

    “Our work aims at answering questions such as whether the brain of children with better physical fitness is different from that of children with worse physical fitness and if this affects their academic performance,” Ortega explains.

    “The answer is short and forceful: yes, physical fitness in children is linked in a direct way to important brain structure differences, and such differences are reflected in the children’s academic performance.”

    Besides, the UGR research associates motor ability with a greater gray matter volume in two regions essential for language processing and reading: the inferior frontal gyrus and the superior temporal gyrus. However, muscular strength didn’t showed any independent association with gray matter volume in any brain region.

    According to Irene Esteban-Cornejo, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Granada and main author of this paper, gray matter volume in the cortical and subcortical regions influenced by physical fitness improves in turn the children’s academic performance.

    Moreover, “physical fitness is a factor that can be modified through physical exercise, and combining exercises that improve the aerobic capacity and the motor ability would be an effective approach to stimulate brain development and academic performance in overweight/obese children.”

    This scientific paper means an important contribution to human knowledge which should be taken into account by educational and public health institutions.

    “We appeal both to politicians, who make educational laws that are increasingly more focused on instrumental subjects, and to teachers, who are the final link in the chain and teach Physical Education day after day. School is the only entity that gathers every children in a mandatory way for a period of at least 10 years, and as such, it’s the ideal context for applying such recommendations,” note the researchers.

    In their own words, the authors of this study are “at the disposal of educational and public health institutions for talking about possible measures and putting them into action.”


  3. Study suggests employees want to sit down less and walk more during work days

    November 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the BioMed Central press release:

    Desk-based workers would like to spend less time sitting down and more time walking or doing physical activity as part of their working day, research published in the open access journal BMC Research Notes suggests. To match these preferences, health promotion activities to reduce sitting time in the workplace should not only offer options for employees to stand up more, but also offer opportunities for walking, according to researchers at German Sport University Cologne and colleagues.

    Dr Birgit Sperlich, lead author of the study said: “To our knowledge this is the first study to investigate how long desk-based workers actually want to sit, stand, walk and be physically active. So far, plans to increase physical activity in the workplace primarily focus on health outcomes without asking the target group what they prefer. Interventions to reduce sitting time may need to include more options for walking rather than only for standing.”

    Participants reported spending 73% on average of their working day sitting down, 10.2% standing, 12.9% walking and 3.9% doing physically demanding tasks. However, they wanted to spend 53.8% of their working day sitting down, 15.8% standing, 22.8% walking and 7.7% doing physically demanding tasks. The desire of employees to spend about half of their working day (4.0 hours) sitting differs considerably from the time they actually report to spend sitting (70% or 5.4 hours). On average, employees wanted to spend an additional 46 minutes per eight-hour working day walking and an additional 26 minutes per eight-hour working day standing.

    The researchers interviewed 614 desk-based workers across Germany by phone to find out about their actual and desired levels of sitting, standing, walking and doing physically demanding tasks at work. They found that the more hours per day a person spent working, the greater the differences between the actual time they spent sitting down and the time they wanted to spend sitting down, indicating that the longer an employee spends working, the less time they want to spend sitting down. By contrast, the longer employees spent working, the smaller the difference between the time they actually spent standing and the time they wanted to spend standing.

    The authors caution that the findings rely on self-reported data and employees may not have correctly estimated the 73.0% of time they reported to spend sitting during working hours and that the study did not assess pre-existing health conditions that could influence desired sitting time which would need to be addressed in future studies.

    Nonetheless, the findings suggest that health promotion activities to reduce sitting time in the workplace are supported by desk-based workers, which could be a helpful foundation when implementing strategies to enhance wellness in the workplace.

    The authors of the study conclude: “Our results lend some support to the recommended reduction of sitting time to 50% of the work day which seems feasible in light of workers’ preferences for sitting, standing and walking that we have identified. Alternatively, these results may reflect respondents’ awareness of recent guidance about occupational sitting time. Either way, interventions that take into account workers’ personal preferences for sitting, walking and physical activity could help reduce the risk for various negative health outcomes.”


  4. Study suggests exercise increases brain size

    November 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the NICM, Western Sydney University press release:

    Aerobic exercise can improve memory function and maintain brain health as we age, a new Australian-led study has found.

    In a first of its kind international collaboration, researchers from Australia’s National Institute of Complementary Medicine at Western Sydney University and the Division of Psychology and Mental Health at the University of Manchester in the UK examined the effects of aerobic exercise on a region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is critical for memory and other brain functions.

    Brain health decreases with age, with the average brain shrinking by approximately five per cent per decade after the age of 40.

    Studies in mice and rats have consistently shown that physical exercise increases the size of the hippocampus but until now evidence in humans has been inconsistent.

    The researchers systematically reviewed 14 clinical trials which examined the brain scans of 737 people before and after aerobic exercise programs or in control conditions.

    The participants included a mix of healthy adults, people with mild cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s and people with a clinical diagnosis of mental illness including depression and schizophrenia. Ages ranged from 24 to 76 years with an average age of 66.

    The researchers examined effects of aerobic exercise, including stationary cycling, walking, and treadmill running. The length of the interventions ranged from three to 24 months with a range of 2-5 sessions per week.

    Overall, the results — published in the journal NeuroImage — showed that, while exercise had no effect on total hippocampal volume, it did significantly increase the size of the left region of the hippocampus in humans.

    Lead author, NICM postdoctoral research fellow, Joseph Firth said the study provides some of the most definitive evidence to date on the benefits of exercise for brain health.

    “When you exercise you produce a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which may help to prevent age-related decline by reducing the deterioration of the brain,” Mr Firth said.

    “Our data showed that, rather than actually increasing the size of the hippocampus per se, the main ‘brain benefits’ are due to aerobic exercise slowing down the deterioration in brain size. In other words, exercise can be seen as a maintenance program for the brain.”

    Mr Firth said along with improving regular ‘healthy’ ageing, the results have implications for the prevention of ageing-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia — however further research is needed to establish this.

    Interestingly, physical exercise is one of the very few ‘proven’ methods for maintaining brain size and functioning into older age.


  5. Study suggests exercise may be beneficial to mental health regimen

    November 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Michigan State University press release:

    More mental health providers may want to take a closer look at including exercise in their patients’ treatment plans, a new study suggests.

    Michigan State University and University of Michigan researchers asked 295 patients receiving treatment at a mental health clinic whether they wanted to be more physically active and if exercise helped improve their mood and anxiety. They also asked if patients wanted their therapist to help them become more active.

    Eighty-five percent said they wanted to exercise more and over 80 percent believed exercise helped improve their moods and anxiety much of the time. Almost half expressed interest in a one-time discussion, with many participants also wanting ongoing advice about physical activity with their mental health provider.

    The study is now published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry.

    Physical activity has been shown to be effective in alleviating mild to moderate depression and anxiety,” said Carol Janney, lead author of the study and an MSU assistant professor of epidemiology. “Current physical activity guidelines advise at least 30 minutes, five days a week to promote mental and physical health, yet many of those surveyed weren’t meeting these recommendations.”

    More than half of the participants said their mood limited their ability to exercise, which Janney said provides an opportunity for physicians and therapists in clinics to offer additional support.

    “Offering physical activity programs inside the mental health clinics may be one of many patient-centered approaches that can improve the mental and physical health of patients,” Janney said.

    Marcia Valenstein, senior author and professor emeritus in psychiatry at U-M, agreed.

    “Mental health treatment programs need to partner with fitness programs to support their patients’ willingness to exercise more,” she said. “This support might come from integrating personal trainers into mental health clinics or having strong partnerships with the YMCA or other community recreational facilities.”

    Both Valenstein and Janney said that psychiatrists and other providers might discuss with patients the general need to exercise, but few actually sit down with patients and create a comprehensive exercise plan for them or regularly make sure they are adhering to a specific goal.

    “Mental health providers such as psychiatrists and therapists may not have the necessary training to prescribe physical activity as part of their mental health practice,” Janney said. “But by teaming up with certified personal trainers or other exercise programs, it may help them prescribe or offer more recommendations for physical activity in the clinic setting.”

    Results also showed that over half of the patients surveyed showed interest in getting help from a personal trainer and were willing to pay a bit extra, but that the topic of physical activity was rarely discussed by their physician.

    “This is a missed opportunity,” Valenstein said. “If we can make it easier for both therapists and their patients to have easier access to physical activity services, then we are likely to help more patients reduce their depression and anxiety.”

    Once the effectiveness of this approach is proven, she added, health insurers might consider moving in the direction of covering services that help people exercise.

    “Several insurers already do this for diabetes prevention, so it’s not out of the question.”


  6. Study suggests group exercise improves quality of life, reduces stress far more than individual workouts

    November 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Osteopathic Association press release:

    Researchers found working out in a group lowers stress by 26 percent and significantly improves quality of life, while those who exercise individually put in more effort but experienced no significant changes in their stress level and a limited improvement to quality of life, according to a study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

    “The communal benefits of coming together with friends and colleagues, and doing something difficult, while encouraging one another, pays dividends beyond exercising alone,” said Dayna Yorks, DO, lead researcher on this study. “The findings support the concept of a mental, physical and emotional approach to health that is necessary for student doctors and physicians.”

    Dr. Yorks and her fellow researchers at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine recruited 69 medical students — a group known for high levels of stress and self-reported low quality of life — and allowed them to self-select into a twelve-week exercise program, either within a group setting or as individuals. A control group abstained from exercise other than walking or biking as a means of transportation.

    Every four weeks, participants completed a survey asking them to rate their levels of perceived stress and quality of life in three categories: mental, physical and emotional.

    Those participating in group exercise spent 30 minutes at least once a week in CXWORX, a core strengthening and functional fitness training program. At the end of the twelve weeks, their mean monthly survey scores showed significant improvements in all three quality of life measures: mental (12.6 percent), physical (24.8 percent) and emotional (26 percent). They also reported a 26.2 percent reduction in perceived stress levels.

    By comparison, individual fitness participants were allowed to maintain any exercise regimen they preferred, which could include activities like running and weight lifting, but they had to work out alone or with no more than two partners. On average the solitary exercisers worked out twice as long, and saw no significant changes in any measure, except in mental quality of life (11 percent increase). Similarly, the control group saw no significant changes in quality of life or perceived stress.

    “Medical schools understand their programs are demanding and stressful. Given this data on the positive impact group fitness can have, schools should consider offering group fitness opportunities,” said Dr. Yorks. “Giving students an outlet to help them manage stress and feel better mentally and physically can potentially alleviate some of the burnout and anxiety in the profession.”


  7. Making healthier decisions, step by step

    October 25, 2017 by Ashley

    From the San Diego State University press release:

    Nobody wakes up expecting they’ll make unhealthy choices, but the daily grind can compromise our otherwise healthy intentions: fast food instead of a home-cooked meal because we’re exhausted; driving instead of walking to the grocery store because it’s more convenient. But what if life came with little reminders to make healthy choices? To address that question, researchers from San Diego State University looked at whether a simple sign could encourage airport visitors to take the stairs rather than the escalator.

    Even small amounts of activity can have important health benefits, particularly for Americans who sit most of the day, said the study’s first author, John Bellettiere, an SDSU alumnus currently working as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, San Diego. He is researching ways to boost physical activity at the population-level to help people “sit less and move more.”

    For 10 non-consecutive days, a team led by SDSU public health researchers Yael BenPorat, Brent Bishop and Melbourne Hovell posted one of five signs at the bottom of a set of stairs and escalators ascending to a sky bridge into San Diego International Airport’s Terminal 1. The signs read:

      • -“Please reserve the escalator for those who need it.”

    -“Don’t lose time, lose weight. Use the Stairs.”

    -“Don’t waste Time, trim your Waistline. Use the Stairs.”

    -“You’ll get more stares if you use the stairs.”

    -“If you want to feel younger, act younger. Step it up! Use the stairs.”

    On alternating days, they posted no signs at all. The researchers counted how many people took the stairs versus the escalator on the sign days and no-sign days. They also interviewed people atop the stairs about their health history and physical activity levels.

    When one of the signs was present, about twice as many people took the stairs compared to a no-sign day, the researchers reported recently in the Journal of Primary Prevention. The most important finding: The prompts appeared to nudge both people who regularly exercised and those who never exercised, explained study coauthor Natasha Bliss, an alumna of the SDSU Graduate School of Public Health and current associate director of development for the university’s College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts.

    “We saw the effect even when people were carrying luggage, even when they were in a rush,” Bellettiere said. “It’s the first time this kind of effect has been shown at an airport.”

    Encouraging even small amounts of exercise is important, Bellettiere added, because of its compounding effect in people’s lives: If they take the stairs early in the day, they may make similar healthy choices later in the day. Also, when people see others taking the stairs, they are more likely to do so themselves, creating a ripple effect.

    “These nudges are small environmental changes that can really help boost physical activity in the population,” Bellettiere said.


  8. Study examines sleep problems in young people

    October 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the James Cook University press release:

    A collaborative research project involving James Cook University and the University of Queensland indicates high rates of sleep problems continuing through teenage years and into early adulthood — but also suggests a natural remedy.

    Dr. Yaqoot Fatima from JCU’s Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health was associated with a study that tracked more than 3600 people from the age of 14 until they were 21.

    “Just over a quarter of the 14-year-olds reported sleep problems, with more than 40 percent of those still having sleep problems at 21,” said Dr. Fatima.

    She said the causes of sleep problems were different at different ages.

    Maternal factors, such as drug abuse, smoking, depression and anxiety among mothers are the most significant predictors of adolescent sleep problems in their children, at 14-years-old. For all people studied, being female, having experienced early puberty, and being a smoker were the most significant predictors of sleep problems at 21 years.”

    She said adolescent depression or anxiety were linking factors for sleep problems between the two ages.

    “It’s a vicious circle. Depression and anxiety are well-established risk factors for sleep problems and people with sleep problems are often anxious or depressed,” she said.

    Dr. Fatima said that as well as the traditional factors, excessive use of electronic media is emerging as another significant risk.

    “In children and adolescents, it’s found to be strongly associated with later bedtime and shorter sleep duration, increasing the risk of developing sleep disturbances,” she said.

    Dr. Fatima said the study was worrying as it revealed a high incidence of persistent sleep problems and possible concurrent health problems among young people — but it also strongly suggested an answer to the problem.

    “Even allowing for Body Mass Index and other lifestyle factors, we found that an active lifestyle can decrease future incidence and progression of sleep problems in young subjects. So, early exercise intervention with adolescents might provide a good opportunity to prevent their sleep problems persisting into later life.”

    She said the next study being considered would look at what factors lead to young adults’ sleep problems continuing as they grow older and how that might be prevented.


  9. Study suggests exercise can help with depression prevention

    October 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of New South Wales press release:

    A landmark study led by the Black Dog Institute has revealed that regular exercise of any intensity can prevent future depression — and just one hour can help.

    Published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the results show even small amounts of exercise can protect against depression, with mental health benefits seen regardless of age or gender.

    In the largest and most extensive study of its kind, the analysis involved 33,908 Norwegian adults who had their levels of exercise and symptoms of depression and anxiety monitored over 11 years.

    The international research team found that 12 percent of cases of depression could have been prevented if participants undertook just one hour of physical activity each week.

    “We’ve known for some time that exercise has a role to play in treating symptoms of depression, but this is the first time we have been able to quantify the preventative potential of physical activity in terms of reducing future levels of depression,” said lead author Associate Professor Samuel Harvey from Black Dog Institute and UNSW.

    “These findings are exciting because they show that even relatively small amounts of exercise — from one hour per week — can deliver significant protection against depression.

    “We are still trying to determine exactly why exercise can have this protective effect, but we believe it is from the combined impact of the various physical and social benefits of physical activity.

    “These results highlight the great potential to integrate exercise into individual mental health plans and broader public health campaigns. If we can find ways to increase the population’s level of physical activity even by a small amount, then this is likely to bring substantial physical and mental health benefits.”

    The findings follow the Black Dog Institute’s recent Exercise Your Mood campaign, which ran throughout September and encouraged Australians to improve their physical and mental wellbeing through exercise.

    Researchers used data from the Health Study of Nord-Trøndelag County (HUNT study) — one of the largest and most comprehensive population-based health surveys ever undertaken — which was conducted between January 1984 and June 1997.

    A healthy cohort of participants was asked at baseline to report the frequency of exercise they participated in and at what intensity: without becoming breathless or sweating, becoming breathless and sweating, or exhausting themselves. At follow-up stage, they completed a self-report questionnaire (the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale) to indicate any emerging anxiety or depression.

    The research team also accounted for variables which might impact the association between exercise and common mental illness. These include socio-economic and demographic factors, substance use, body mass index, new onset physical illness and perceived social support.

    Results showed that people who reported doing no exercise at all at baseline had a 44% increased chance of developing depression compared to those who were exercising one to two hours a week.

    However, these benefits did not carry through to protecting against anxiety, with no association identified between level and intensity of exercise and the chances of developing the disorder.

    According to the Australian Health Survey, 20 percent of Australian adults do not undertake any regular physical activity, and more than a third spend less than 1.5 hours per week being physically active. At the same time, around 1 million Australians have depression, with one in five Australians aged 16-85 experiencing a mental illness in any year.

    “Most of the mental health benefits of exercise are realised within the first hour undertaken each week,” said Associate Professor Harvey.

    “With sedentary lifestyles becoming the norm worldwide, and rates of depression growing, these results are particularly pertinent as they highlight that even small lifestyle changes can reap significant mental health benefits.”


  10. Study suggests increased physical activity among breast cancer survivors boosts cognition

    October 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of California – San Diego press release:

    It is estimated that up to 75 percent of breast cancer survivors experience problems with cognitive difficulties following treatments, perhaps lasting years. Currently, few science-based options are available to help. In the journal Cancer, University of California San Diego School of Medicine researchers report in a pilot study of 87 female breast cancer survivors, an increase in physical activity more than doubled the women’s post-treatment mental processing speed.

    In a 12-week, randomized trial, half the women were enrolled in a physical activity intervention program tailored to each person’s interests and abilities and incorporating wearable activity devices, while the other half were assigned to a control group that received emails addressing women’s health topics, healthy eating, stress reduction and general brain health.

    “Whether or not they receive chemotherapy, many breast cancer survivors experience a decline in brain function that impacts memory, thinking and concentration,” said Sheri Hartman, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine and co-director of the diet and physical activity shared resource at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. “The women who participated in the physical activity intervention experienced a significant improvement in cognitive processing speed and some improvements in their perceived mental abilities. This study supports the idea that exercise could be a way to help improve cognition among breast cancer survivors.”

    The study tested changes in cognition using both National Institutes of Health (NIH) Toolbox Cognition Domain, a computer-based test of cognitive abilities, and the Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System for self-reporting brain function abilities and problems in all patients at the start and end of the 12-week period. This is the first completed randomized controlled trial using both a test of cognition and a self-reported method to assess the impact of physical activity on cancer survivors.

    In the tests, women in the exercise arm showed more than double the improvements in processing speed, which measures how fast information can be taken in and used, compared to the control group. Looking closer, women in the intervention arm who were two years or less from diagnosis were four times more likely to show improvement in this area.

    “This is a preliminary study, but it appears that intervening closer to diagnosis may be important to having an impact, and this is the population we may need to target,” said Hartman.

    Women in the intervention arm also had three times the improvements in self-report cognition abilities compared to the control group.

    While the tests evaluated several aspects of cognition, only speed processing showed a significant improvement. Researchers recommend larger and longer trials evaluating the necessary duration of exercise and intensity of activities to determine if increased physical activity might impact other aspects of cognition.

    Before the start of the study, all participants wore a research-grade accelerometer on their hips for seven days to measure physical activity at baseline and again for the last seven days of the trial to compare changes in minutes of moderately intense activity.

    During the study period, women in the exercise arm wore a Fitbit One activity tracker. Data collected was sent to researchers to extract activity levels and to provide feedback and encouragement to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week, as recommended by the NIH. Researchers provided support through phone calls and emails.

    “Survivors often report that their thinking is slower or feels more foggy. The brain just doesn’t work at the same level as before cancer treatment,” said Hartman. “By providing a program with support, women are more likely to make difficult behavioral changes that lead to an increase in physical activity.”

    The intervention program led to an approximately 100-minute increase in weekly physical activity in the participants in the exercise arm.

    Participants were enrolled in the study between February 2015 and July 2016. To be eligible, women needed to be between 21 and 85 years of age and have been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer no more than five years before enrollment in the study. Participants were predominantly well-educated, non-Hispanic white women. Future research in cancer populations with greater diversity is needed, the authors said.