Nut Consumption During Pregnancy Linked to Improvements in Neurodevelopment in Children

Nuts are known to help reduce the risk of hypertension, oxidative stress and diabetes and they may exercise a protective effect against cognitive decline in older age. To this list of beneficial health effects, we can now add new evidence from a study led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), an institute supported by “la Caixa.” The study, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, found links between a maternal diet rich in nuts during the first trimester of pregnancy and improved neurodevelopment in the child.

The study was carried out in Spain and included over 2,200 mother and child pairs enrolled in cohorts belonging to the INMA Project located in Asturias, Guipuzcoa, Sabadell and Valencia. Information on maternal nut intake was obtained from questionnaires on eating habits, which the mothers completed during the first and last trimester of their pregnancy. The children’s neuropsychological development was assessed using several internationally validated standard tests 18 months, 5 years, and 8 years after birth.

Analysis of the results showed that the group of children whose mothers ate more nuts during the first trimester of pregnancy obtained the best results in all the tests measuring cognitive function, attention capacity and working memory.

“This is the first study to explore the possible benefits of eating nuts during pregnancy for the child’s neurodevelopment in the long term. The brain undergoes a series of complex processes during gestation and this means that maternal nutrition is a determining factor in fetal brain development and can have long-term effects, explains Florence Gignac, ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study. “The nuts we took into account in this study were walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pine nuts and hazelnuts. We think that the beneficial effects observed might be due to the fact that the nuts provided high levels of folic acid and, in particular, essential fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6. These components tend to accumulate in neural tissue, particularly in the frontal areas of the brain, which influence memory and executive functions.”

The benefits described in this study were observed in the group of mothers who reported the highest consumption of nuts — a weekly average of just under three 30g servings. This is slightly lower than the average weekly consumption recommended in the healthy eating guide published by the Spanish Society of Community Nutrition (SENC: Guía de la alimentación saludable), which is between three and seven servings per week. “This makes us think that if the mothers consumed the recommended weekly average the benefits could be much greater,” Gignac explains. Estimated nut consumption in Spain is more than double the European average (4.8 g vs. 2.2 g).

The study also analysed the mothers’ nut consumption during the third trimester of their pregnancy, but in this case either no associations were observed with the neuropsychological outcomes or the associations found were weaker. “This is not the first time we have observed more marked effects when an exposure occurs at a specific stage of the pregnancy. While our study does not explain the causes of the difference between the first and third trimesters, the scientific literature speculates that the rhythm of fetal development varies throughout the pregnancy and that there are periods when development is particularly sensitive to maternal diet” explains Jordi Júlvez, ISGlobal researcher and last author of the study.

“In any case,” adds Júlvez, “as this is the first study to explore this effect, we must treat the findings with caution and work on reproducing them in the future with more cohort studies as well as randomised controlled trials.”

Source: Science Daily


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Morning Exercise Kick-Starts Seniors’ Brains

Want a quick brain boost? A morning session of exercise and short walks throughout the day provide a number of brain benefits for older adults, a new study says.

The findings show that people should avoid uninterrupted sitting to maintain good mental function throughout the day. The study also indicates that moderate-intensity exercise such as brisk walking should be encouraged to maintain brain health, according to researcher Michael Wheeler.

“Relatively simple changes to your daily routine could have a significant benefit to your cognitive health. [The study] also reveals that one day we may be able to do specific types of exercise to enhance specific cognitive skills such as memory or learning,” Wheeler added. He’s a doctoral student at the University of Western Australia’s Heart and Diabetes Institute.

The study included more than 65 men and women, aged 55 to 80, in Australia.

The researchers examined how moderate-intensity exercise on a treadmill in the morning with and without 3-minute walking breaks during an 8-hour day of extended sitting affected different kinds of mental function.

Decision-making throughout the day was improved when the participants did the morning exercise session, compared with uninterrupted sitting, according to the study.

It also found that the morning bout of exercise combined with a number of short light-intensity walking breaks throughout the day led to improvements in short-term memory, compared with uninterrupted sitting.

The findings show that different types of physical activity can improve specific areas of mental function, according to the study.

A key player in the exercise-linked brain benefits is a protein called brain-derived neurotropic growth factor, which is important in the survival and growth of information-transmitting neurons in the brain, the researchers said.

They found that levels of this protein were elevated when participants did either just the morning exercise or the morning exercise and short walking breaks throughout the day, compared with prolonged sitting.

“With an aging population which is looking to live healthier for longer, these studies are critical to people enjoying a productive and satisfying quality of life,” Wheeler said in a Baker news release.

The study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Source: HealthDay


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Tailoring Exercise to Your Age

Len Canter wrote . . . . . . . . .

Exercise is a great way to stay youthful and even turn back the clock on aging. If you’re new to exercise or simply want a fitness reboot, here are ideas by the decade.

In Your 20s: Experiment with different workouts to find what you enjoy. Make exercise a regular habit that you won’t want to give up, even when career and family make heavy demands on you.

In Your 30s: Short on time? Try three 15-minute walks spread throughout the day. To stay fit and retain muscle, do cardio just about every day and strength training two or three times a week. If you’re new to exercise, take classes or have a personal trainer create a program for you.

In Your 40s: Enhance your weekly routine by doing both low-intensity exercise, like yoga for stress relief and flexibility, and high-intensity workouts, like interval training or a spin or kettlebell class, to boost calorie burn and muscle elasticity. Expect longer recovery times after high-intensity workouts, so make sure to get enough sleep.

In Your 50s: Regular exercise remains a must, but ask your doctor for modifications if you have any chronic conditions. Varying your workouts or taking up a new sport will engage your brain as well as different muscles. Get in at least one or two high-intensity workouts a week and try to take active vacations that include favorite pastimes like biking, hiking or even walking tours.

In Your 60s and Beyond: Stay fit and strong to stay independent longer, and stay socially engaged by taking group classes. Stick with strength training, but consider using machines rather than free weights for more control. Water workouts may be easier on joints, too, especially if you have arthritis. But always keep moving. Try tai chi for flexibility and balance, and go dancing for fun and fitness.

Source: HealthDay

Exercise to Strengthen the Immune System

We have often seen studies on how various forms of exercise help maintain bone density, increase muscle mass, reduce fat, improve heart and lung function, reduce stress, heighten moods, and so on. But today we are focusing on what exercise does for the immune system.

Getting the body moving on a moderate level, promoting blood flow, deepening breathing, and increasing range of motion in our joints, work to stimulate the immune system. For the sake of this discussion, “moderate exercise” can be defined as walking, yoga or Tai Chi, riding a bike on level ground, or swimming. The idea is to get moving at a level that is comfortable to you that will increase your breathing and blood flow.

The increase in blood circulation helps white blood cells and antibodies quickly respond to identified invaders in your body. These unwanted invaders include viruses and bacteria. By increasing the response time for your body’s defenses, you are improving the chance of neutralizing the culprits before they can multiply and establish a fortified defense against you.

One of the workhorses in your immune system is a group of white blood cells known as lymphocytes, which include B-cells and T-cells. Both of these cell-types are instrumental in protecting you from germs and toxins. The key interaction between B- and T-cells, and “invaders”, occurs in your lymph glands, and an activator of your lymphatic system is deep breathing. Further, the movement of your arms and legs provide a pumping action that help stimulate the circulation of lymph fluid throughout your system.

This time of year is often accompanied by stressors that can mess with our heads; anxiety, depression, moodiness, etc. It is always amazing how a little activity seems to decompress the mind, and lift the spirit, with something as simple as going for a walk.

Oxygen also plays a role in improving your immune system. Starting way back in 1931 (when Otto Warburg was awarded his Nobel Prize for research on the link between cancer and adequate oxygen to the cells), there has been a growing body of evidence indicating the link between immune deficiency and reduced oxygen metabolism.

The main theme of this discussion is that it benefits us to simply get moving. However, it should be noted that — like many instances where too much of a good thing can be bad — too much exercise will actually suppress the immune system. Folks who are serious about intense athletic endeavors can find themselves “over-trained”, feeling lethargic and susceptible to every cold the kids bring home. For those of us who partake in the higher demands of intense activities, a dedicated routine of exaggerated levels of antioxidant supplementation and disciplined rest periods are vital for staying on our feet.

One more aspect of moderate exercise is the mental connection. Holiday events, extended weekends, and even family vacations are often accompanied by stressors that can mess with our heads; anxiety, depression, moodiness, etc. It is always amazing how a little activity seems to decompress the mind, and lift the spirit, with something as simple as going for a walk.

So, the next time the “good times” begin to press you down, get up and move… and I don’t mean to Miami. I mean simply stand up and start moving. It’s good for you.

Source: Applied Health


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Novel 5-minute Workout Improves Blood Pressure, May Boost Your Brain

Lisa Marshall wrote . . . . . . . . .

Could working out five minutes a day, without lifting a single weight or jogging a single step, reduce your heart attack risk, help you think more clearly and boost your sports performance?

Preliminary evidence suggests yes.

Now, with a new grant from the National Institute on Aging, CU Boulder researchers have launched a clinical trial to learn more about the ultra-time-efficient exercise known as Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST).

“It’s basically strength-training for the muscles you breathe in with,” explains Daniel Craighead, a postdoctoral researcher in the Integrative Physiology department. “It’s something you can do quickly in your home or office, without having to change your clothes, and so far it looks like it is very beneficial to lower blood pressure and possibly boost cognitive and physical performance.”

Developed in the 1980s as a means to wean critically ill people off ventilators, IMST involves breathing in vigorously through a hand-held device—an inspiratory muscle trainer—which provides resistance. Imagine sucking hard through a straw which sucks back.

During early use in patients with lung diseases, patients performed a 30-minute, low-resistance regimen daily to boost their lung capacity.

But in 2016, University of Arizona researchers published results from a trial to see if just 30 inhalations per day with greater resistance might help sufferers of obstructive sleep apnea, who tend to have weak breathing muscles, rest better.

In addition to more restful sleep and developing a stronger diaphragm and other inspiratory muscles, subjects showed an unexpected side effect after six weeks: Their systolic blood pressure plummeted by 12 millimeters of mercury. That’s about twice as much of a decrease as aerobic exercise can yield and more than many medications deliver.

“That’s when we got interested,” said Professor Doug Seals, director of the Integrative Physiology of Aging Laboratory.

Seals notes that systolic blood pressure, which signifies the pressure in your vessels when your heart beats, naturally creeps up as arteries stiffen with age, leading to damage of blood-starved tissues and higher risk of heart attack, cognitive decline and kidney damage.

While 30 minutes per day of aerobic exercise has clearly been shown to lower blood pressure, only about 5 percent of adults meet that minimum, government estimates show. Meanwhile, 65 percent of mid-life adults have high systolic blood pressure.

“Our goal is to develop time-efficient, evidence-based interventions that those busy mid-life adults will actually perform,” said Seals, who was recently awarded a $450,000 NIA grant to fund a small clinical trial of IMST involving about 50 subjects. “The preliminary data are quite exciting.”

With about half of the tests done, the researchers have found significant drops in blood pressure and improvements in large-artery function among those who performed IMST with no changes in those who used a sham breathing device that delivered low-resistance.

So far, the IMST group is also performing better on certain cognitive and memory tests.

It’s something you can do quickly in your home or office, without having to change your clothes, and so far it looks like it is very beneficial to lower blood pressure and possibly boost cognitive and physical performance.” –Daniel Craighead

When asked to exercise to exhaustion, they were also able to stay on the treadmill longer and keep their heart rate and oxygen consumption lower during exercise.

“We suspect that as you improve the function of your respiratory muscles, they don’t need as much blood to work and that blood can be redistributed to your legs so you exercise longer,” said Craighead.

Some cyclists and runners have already begun to use commercially-available inspiratory muscle trainers to gain a competitive edge.

But Seals and Craighead stress that their findings are preliminary, more research is necessary and curious individuals should ask their doctor before considering IMST.

That said, with a high compliance rate (fewer than 10 percent of study participants drop out) and no real side-effects, they’re optimistic.

“High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is the number one cause of death in America,” said Craighead. “Having another option in the toolbox to help prevent it would be a real victory.”

Source: University of Colorado Boulder