Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Fit Brain

Everyone reading this blog is already convinced of the importance of exercise and good nutrition to maintain a strong, healthy body.  But what about your brain?  And what about those people who think of themselves as beings of pure intellect, unconcerned with their physical bodies?  Do they have a logical reason to exercise and eat right?
For some time, researchers have known that exercise changes the structure of the brain and affects thinking. Ten years ago scientists at the Salk Institute in California published the groundbreaking finding that exercise stimulates the creation of new brain cells...
...elderly people were assigned a six-month program of either stretching exercises or brisk walking. The stretchers increased their flexibility but did not improve on tests of cognition. The brisk walkers did.
The New York Times, September 16, 2009

  Aerobic Activity May Keep The Brain Young
ScienceDaily (June 30, 2009) — New research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine finds that aerobic activity may keep the brain young.
University of North Carolina School of Medicine. "Aerobic Activity May Keep The Brain Young."
Exercise Increases Brain Growth Factor And Receptors, Prevents Stem Cell Drop In Middle Age
ScienceDaily (Nov. 27, 2008) — A new study confirms that exercise can reverse the age-related decline in the production of neural stem cells in the hippocampus of the mouse brain, and suggests that this happens because exercise restores a brain chemical which promotes the production and maturation of new stem cells.
American Physiological Society (2008, November 27). Exercise Increases Brain Growth
Exercise helps brains bounce back
CHICAGO — A toned, buff bod isn’t the only thing a workout is good for. Exercise protects special brain cells in monkeys’ brains and improves motor function, a new study finds.  The data, presented at a news briefing October 18 in Chicago at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting, adds to a growing body of evidence that shows exercise is good for the brain, too.
Exercise Helps Prevent Age-related Brain Changes In Older Adults
ScienceDaily (Dec. 2, 2008) — Older adults who exercise regularly show increased cerebral blood flow and a greater number of small blood vessels in the brain, according to findings presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).
Radiological Society of North America (2008, December 2). Exercise Helps Prevent Age-related Brain Changes In Older Adults.

Fitness And Childhood IQ Indicators Of Cognitive Ability In Old Age

ScienceDaily (Oct. 12, 2006) — How well your mind works in old age depends on physical fitness and your IQ score as a child...
"...the study found physical fitness has a greater impact on cognitive ability in old age than childhood IQ."
"The important result of the study is that fitness contributes to better cognitive ability in old age," says Deary. "Thus, two people starting out with the same IQ at age 11, the fitter person at age 79 will, on average, have better cognitive function."

American Academy of Neurology. "Fitness And Childhood IQ Indicators Of Cognitive Ability In Old Age."

Alzheimer's Researchers Find High Protein Diet Shrinks Brain
ScienceDaily (Oct. 21, 2009) — One of the many reasons to pick a low-calorie, low-fat diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and fish is that a host of epidemiological studies have suggested that such a diet may delay the onset or slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Now a study published in BioMed Central's open access journal Molecular Neurodegeneration tests the effects of several diets, head-to-head, for their effects on AD pathology in a mouse model of the disease. Although the researchers were focused on triggers for brain plaque formation, they also found that, unexpectedly, a high protein diet apparently led to a smaller brain.
BioMed Central (2009, October 21). Alzheimer's Researchers Find High Protein Diet Shrinks Brain.
Low-carb Diets Can Affect Dieters' Cognition Skills
ScienceDaily (Dec. 15, 2008) — A new study from the psychology department at Tufts University shows that when dieters eliminate carbohydrates from their meals, they performed more poorly on memory-based tasks than when they reduce calories, but maintain carbohydrates. When carbohydrates were reintroduced, cognition skills returned to normal.
Tufts University (2008, December 15). Low-carb Diets Can Affect Dieters' Cognition Skills.
Let's review: Physical exercise makes you smarter, and for longer in life.  It's best when started young, but helpful at any age.  Plenty of carbs boosts the brain, and too much meat shrinks it.

Here's the best part:  The same exercises that improve your brain will make you fit below the neck at the same time.  There is no duality, no reductionism, no body part isolation, and no being of pure intellect.

A hat tip to the brilliant Chip Conrad at Bodytribe Fitness for leading me to the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain which I haven't read yet, but promises to inspire more posts on the topic.

For the curious, the Man From Tomorrow image is from the original Outer Limits TV show.  I couldn't find a proper attribution to give, but the show was awesome.

In other news, more from the NYT about my favorite vitamin(actually a hormone), previously blogged about  here and here:

Vitamin D Shows Heart Benefits in Study
Got vitamin D? It may protect you from heart disease.

Vitamin D, of milk fame, is known for helping with calcium absorption and for building strong bones, which is why it’s routinely added to milk. But there is more and more evidence that vitamin D is a critical player in numerous other aspects of metabolism. A new study suggests many Americans aren’t getting anywhere nearly enough of
the vitamin, and it may be affecting their heart health.
The New York Times, September 16, 2009
I like to think of vitamin D as being of sunshine, not milk, fame though.

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