Want to Turn Back the Aging Clock? Train for a Marathon

Dennis Thompson wrote . . . . . . . . .

Your New Year’s resolution to run a marathon for the first time could be your ticket to a younger and healthier heart, a new study suggests.

First-time marathon runners experience health benefits that essentially turn back time on their circulatory system, researchers report.

“Training for a marathon — even as a novice runner — has significant benefits on the cardiovascular system and is able to ‘reverse’ the effects of aging that we find in the major blood vessels by four years,” said senior researcher Dr. Charlotte Manisty. She is a consultant cardiologist with the Institute of Cardiovascular Science at University College London and Barts Heart Center in London.

Six months of training for the London Marathon made study participants’ blood vessels more flexible and healthy, and reduced their blood pressure about as much as medications would, Manisty said.

What’s more, the benefits were greater for people who were older or started off less fit, Manisty added.

In essence, regular exercise can be looked at as a fountain of youth, said Barry Franklin, director of cardiac rehabilitation and exercise laboratories at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich.

“Exercise has anti-aging effects,” Franklin said. “This study shows that, without question.”

Manisty and Franklin agreed that anyone undertaking an exercise program for an endurance event in other sports — bicycling, swimming, triathlons — could expect to see similar heart-health benefits.

For this study, Manisty and her colleagues followed 138 healthy first-time marathon runners from the 2016 and 2017 London Marathons. The runners varied in age from 21 to 69, with an average age of 37, and were split evenly between men and women.

The researchers tested blood pressure and the stiffness of each participant’s aorta — the body’s major artery — before they embarked on six months of training and again after they completed the marathon.

Stiffening arteries are a normal part of aging, but this makes the heart work harder by forcing it to pump blood through narrow vessels less capable of enlarging to allow for better blood flow, the study authors said in background notes.

The participants were handed a beginners’ training plan provided by marathon organizers, which consisted of three runs per week that increase in difficulty as the main event comes closer. The runs tended to vary between six to 13 miles a week.

Training decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 4 and 3 points, on average, the findings showed. It also improved the ability of the aorta to swell under pressure by 9%.

This equates to shaving four years off the age of their aortas, the researchers said.

“Importantly, the levels of fitness attained can be easily achieved by almost everyone, and those who were least fit appeared to derive most benefit, suggesting that even modest increases in fitness are likely to have significant beneficial effects,” Manisty said.

Setting a goal like running a marathon can help a person stick to a fitness program, she said, and it also encourages them to make other lifestyle improvements, such as eating healthy or getting better sleep.

“However, this goal need not be a marathon,” Manisty said. “Goal-directed training at any level that is sustained will have health benefits.”

Franklin said this jibes with other studies that have found that regular exercise can lower a person’s risk of heart attack by up to 50%, by improving blood pressure, reducing cholesterol levels and stabilizing blood sugar levels.

Despite this, there’s an “immense paradox” at the heart of Americans’ relationship with exercise, Franklin said.

“There’s a growing body of scientific evidence highlighting the benefits of regular exercise, yet we have a physical inactivity pandemic in the United States,” Franklin said. “Because of technology, we’re literally engineering physical activity out of our lives, and we’re paying a terrible price with increased risk of chronic diseases.”

One heart expert noted that marathon training could be a springboard into a healthier life.

“Regular exercise is beneficial for prevention of cardiovascular disease. What’s crucial is long-term commitment to building exercise into lifestyle,” said Dr. Lawrence Krakoff, a cardiologist at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “If this study encourages that transition, it could have an important positive impact on healthy aging.”

According to Harvard Medical School, to play it safe, people embarking on a fitness goal should:

  • Ease into your training regimen, starting off slow and increasing your activity level gradually.
  • Pay attention to pain in your joints, bones and muscles, which can be signs of an overuse injury, and get it checked out by a doctor.
  • Listen to your body. Don’t exercise when you’re feeling sick or very fatigued, and take time off if you’re having trouble finishing an exercise session or recuperating afterward.
  • Dress properly for outdoor exercise based on the weather, and be sure to drink plenty of water.

Folks in the middle of an endurance event also should resist the urge to push harder as the finish line draws near, Franklin added.

“People tend to try to sprint at the very end over the last quarter mile to improve their time,” Franklin said. But at that point, they probably are dehydrated with a high body temperature and elevated blood pressure — all conditions that could contribute to a potentially dangerous irregular heart rate.

The new study appears in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Source: HealthDay


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Can Strength Training Slow Cognitive Decline?

Sarah Watts wrote . . . . . . . . .

Lifting weights can boost strength and balance, but how does it affect cognition?

“Building muscle mass should be part of everyone’s plan to reduce the risk of cognitive decline,” says Richard Isaacson, MD, FAAN, director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at the Weill Cornell Memory Disorders Program in New York City. People tend to lose 1 percent of their muscle mass every year as they age, and low muscle mass, combined with excess fat, gives rise to metabolic problems associated with cognitive decline, he explains. “Whatever happens in the body affects brain health. As belly size gets bigger, the hippocampus gets smaller, and our cognitive decline suffers,” he says, citing a 2019 study in Neurology that looked at the link between body mass index, waist-to-hip ratio, and brain volume. “Exercise has the ability to actually grow the brain and boost brain function.”

Lifestyle modifications that include strength training and other exercise, as well as dietary changes, may improve cognitive function and reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s in the future, according to Dr. Isaacson’s own research published last year in Alzheimer’s and Dementia. He notes in the report that more research is needed to prove a connection between exercise and Alzheimer’s. And to reap any benefits from exercise and strength training, you have to do more than visit a gym once a month, Dr. Isaacson says.

Instead of telling his patients to simply exercise, Dr. Isaacson encourages them to develop a specific, individualized plan. To do that, he recommends they contact a doctor of osteopathy, who can measure body composition, and then reach out to a physical therapist or certified trainer who can help them build muscle, trim fat, and balance their metabolism. According to the National Institute on Aging, people should try to work up to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise as often as possible, preferably every day. They also should do strength training exercises for all muscle groups at least twice a week for 30 minutes. Elderly people and those with chronic illness should adhere to these standards as much as they’re able.

As for specific muscle-building exercises, Dr. Isaacson recommends whatever won’t hurt patients. “I think of exercise as a pyramid: The top is intense aerobic exercise like CrossFit, and the bottom is gentle stretching. Start at the bottom, go slowly, and work your way up with weights, circuit machines, and dumbbells.”

Source: Brain & Life


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Yoga May Bring a Brain Boost

Alan Mozes wrote . . . . . . . . .

Looking for a way to improve your memory, gain control over your emotions, and boost your ability to multitask?

A new brain scan study may be just the incentive you need to put yoga at the top of your New Years’ to-do list.

The review of 11 published studies found a link between yoga’s movements, meditation and breathing practices and an increase in the size of key brain areas. Those areas are involved in thinking clearly, decision-making, memory and regulating emotions.

“The science is pointing to yoga being beneficial for healthy brain function, but we need more rigorous and well-controlled intervention studies to confirm these initial findings,” study co-author Jessica Damoiseaux said in a news release. She’s an assistant professor of gerontology and psychology at Wayne State University in Detroit.

The review, published in the journal Brain Plasticity, found the brain benefits of yoga are similar to those from aerobic exercise.

Why isn’t yet clear. More study is needed, the authors said.

“Yoga is not aerobic in nature, so there must be other mechanisms leading to these brain changes,” lead author Dr. Neha Gothe said in the news release. “So far, we don’t have the evidence to identify what those mechanisms are.”

Gothe is director of the Exercise Psychology Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Five of the 11 studies used brain imaging before and after newbies followed a regimen of at least one yoga session per week for 10 to 24 weeks. All used a regimen called hatha yoga.

Other studies compared brain scans of yoga practitioners and people who had never tried yoga.

Collectively, the studies pointed to a link between yoga and increased size in the brain’s hippocampus. Involved in memory and learning, the hippocampus shrinks with age and is the first part of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Yoga also appeared to expand the amygdala, a brain area involved in emotions; the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in planning and making choices; and the cingulate cortex, which plays an important part in regulating emotions, learning and memory.

Yoga practitioners were also found to fare better on mental performance tests, the study team observed.

Dr. Thomas Vidic, a neurologist at Elkhart General Hospital in Elkhart, Ind., who was not involved in the study, said he was not surprised by the findings.

“There have been numerous studies that show that mental and physical activity is useful [and] probably necessary — to maintaining brain function,” said Vidic, who is also a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

For now, however, “we cannot separate out what it is about yoga that is causing these effects, [but] it would be an easy guess that yoga combines both mind and body, and is thus able to activate numerous pathways,” Vidic added.

So should those who’ve never been drawn to yoga before but might like the potential brain benefits give it a go?

Definitely, Vidic said. But, he added, if you haven’t been active, start slow and join an appropriate group.

“Yoga is not for sissies,” he said. “It is a serious discipline and within this concept is the significant physical and cognitive stimulation.”

And, remember, you won’t become competent overnight. But, Vidic said, you can become an enthusiast on day one.

“I believe that everyone needs to find an activity that is physically and mentally stimulating,” he said. “And for many people yoga is a great activity.”

Source: HealthDay

Study: Exercise Good for Your Brain’s Gray Matter

Jay Furst wrote . . . . . . . . .

Cardiorespiratory exercise — walking briskly, running, biking and just about any other exercise that gets your heart pumping — is good for your body, but can it also slow cognitive changes in your brain?

A study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases provides new evidence of an association between cardiorespiratory fitness and brain health, particularly in gray matter and total brain volume — regions of the brain involved with cognitive decline and aging.

Brain tissue is made up of gray matter, or cell bodies, and filaments, called white matter, that extend from the cells. The volume of gray matter appears to correlate with various skills and cognitive abilities. The researchers found that increases in peak oxygen uptake were strongly associated with increased gray matter volume.

The study involved 2,013 adults from two independent cohorts in northeastern Germany. Participants were examined in phases from 1997 through 2012. Cardiorespiratory fitness was measured using peak oxygen uptake and other standards while participants used an exercise bike. MRI brain data also were analyzed.

The results suggest cardiorespiratory exercise may contribute to improved brain health and decelerate a decline in gray matter. An editorial by three Mayo Clinic experts that accompanies the Mayo Clinic Proceedings study says the results are “encouraging, intriguing and contribute to the growing literature relating to exercise and brain health.”

Ronald Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic neurologist and first author of the editorial, says the most striking feature of the study is the measured effect of exercise on brain structures involved in cognition, rather than motor function. “This provides indirect evidence that aerobic exercise can have a positive impact on cognitive function in addition to physical conditioning,” he says. “Another important feature of the study is that these results may apply to older adults, as well. There is good evidence for the value of exercise in midlife, but it is encouraging that there can be positive effects on the brain in later life as well.”

Dr. Petersen is the Cora Kanow Professor of Alzheimer’s Disease Research and the Chester and Debbie Cadieux Director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

The study’s finding of higher gray matter volume associated with cardiorespiratory exercise are in brain regions clinically relevant for cognitive changes in aging, including some involved in Alzheimer’s disease. The editorial calls those associations interesting but cautions against concluding that cardiorespiratory fitness correlations would affect Alzheimer’s disease.

“This is another piece of the puzzle showing physical activity and physical fitness is protective against aging-related cognitive decline,” says Michael Joyner, M.D., a Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist and physiologist, and editorial co-author. “There’s already good epidemiological evidence for this, as well as emerging data showing that physical activity and fitness are associated with improved brain blood vessel function. This paper is important because of the volumetric data showing an effect on brain structure.”

Dr. Joyner is the Frank R. and Shari Caywood Professor at Mayo Clinic.

Long-term studies on the relationship between exercise and brain health are needed, which will be costly and logistically challenging to produce. “Nevertheless, these data are encouraging,” says Clifford Jack Jr., M.D., a Mayo Clinic neuroradiologist and co-author of the editorial. “The findings regarding cardiorespiratory fitness and certain brain structures are unique.”

Dr. Jack is the Alexander Family Professor of Alzheimer’s Disease Research.

According to Mayo Clinic experts, moderate and regular exercise — about 150 minutes per week — is recommended. Good cardiorespiratory fitness also involves:

  • Not smoking
  • Following healthy eating habits
  • Losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight level
  • Managing blood pressure and avoiding hypertension
  • Controlling cholesterol levels
  • Reducing blood sugar, which over time can damage your heart and other organs

Source: Mayo Clinic

Regular Exercise Cuts Odds for 7 Major Cancers

Steven Reinberg wrote . . . . . . . . .

Exercise may reduce the odds you’ll develop any of seven types of cancer — and a new study suggests the more you exercise, the lower your risk.

That’s the conclusion of researchers who pooled data from nine published studies that included more than 750,000 men and women.

“We found that the recommended amount of physical activity was in fact associated with significantly reduced risk for breast, colon, endometrial, kidney, liver, myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma,” said lead researcher Charles Matthews, a senior investigator at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

U.S. guidelines recommend three to five hours a week of moderate activity for adults, or one to three hours a week of vigorous activity.

The study authors found that the harder you exercise for that recommended time, the more you reduce your cancer risk.

Specifically, the risk of colon cancer in men was reduced between 8% for moderate exercise and 14% for vigorous activity.

For women’s breast cancer, the reduction ranged from 6% for moderate exercise to 10% for a vigorous work out; for endometrial cancer, from 10% to 18%; kidney cancer, 11% to 17%; myeloma, 14% to 19%; liver cancer 18% to 27%; and non-Hodgkin lymphoma in women, 11% to 18%.

But Alpa Patel — the American Cancer Society’s senior scientific director of epidemiology research, who was part of the study — urged caution in interpreting the findings.

Patel pointed out that the study does not prove that exercise lowers cancer risk, only that a strong association exists.

Matthews said, however, that the findings suggest that doctors and fitness professionals should encourage adults to exercise at the recommended levels to lower their risk of cancer.

How exercise might lower the risk for these seven cancers isn’t clear, but Patel offered some theories.

“The most common things that we know about exercise, even in the absence of weight maintenance or weight loss, is that it’s important for insulin regulation, sex hormones like estrogen, and also has an important impact on inflammation and immune response — any or all of these different factors could affect different types of cancer,” she said.

For example, Patel noted that for colon cancer, the leading theory is that exercise works by managing glucose metabolism, and breast cancer is largely driven by estrogen levels.

Living a healthy lifestyle is a part of lowering your cancer risk. That means maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthful diet and not smoking.

“There are certain modifiable risks associated with cancer, and we are learning more and more about the potential benefits of being physically active as it relates to cancer prevention,” Patel added.

She said that researchers’ understanding over the past decade that physical activity may help reduce risk for cancers of the colon and breast, as well as endometrial cancer, has now expanded to knowing it’s important for at least seven cancers, and potentially more.

“This is a really exciting message that even as you are working to make lifestyle choices, a small amount of activity can be very beneficial to your cancer risk,” Patel said.

The report was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncolog.

Source: HealthDay


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