Cheer up couch potatoes! Regular stretching and balance and range of motion exercises are as good as aerobic exercise in slowing the progression of mild cognitive decline, a new study has found.
“My worry in the beginning of the study was ‘What if only aerobic makes a difference? Good luck getting the majority of Americans to do aerobic exercise on a regular basis!’ It’s not sustainable,” said study author Laura Baker, a professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, via email.
“But we found that cognitive function did not decline over 12 months for either intervention group — the people who did aerobic exercise or the people who did stretching, balance and range of motion,” Baker said.
Rudy Tanzi, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, welcomed the findings that a modest amount of exercise – 120 to 150 minutes per week for 12 months – may slow cognitive decline in sedentary older adults with mild cognitive impairment.
Tanzi, who was not involved in the study, has examined the role of exercise in mice genetically bred to have Alzheimer’s disease and found exercise induces the birth of new neurons in the section of the brain most affected by Alzheimer’s while also boosting beneficial growth factors that improve neural activity.
“So often, the benefits of interventions observed in Alzheimer’s mouse models do not translate to human patients. It is nice to see that in this new study, the benefits of exercise perhaps do translate from mice to human,” said Tanzi, who directs the genetics and aging research unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
WHAT IS MILD COGNITIVE DECLINE?
The study, presented Tuesday at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in San Diego, followed 296 participants who were completely sedentary at the beginning of the experiment. All had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment – the earliest stage of the slow slide into dementia.
“Individuals who have mild cognitive impairment are not cognitively normal, but they don’t have dementia,” Baker said. “They’re fully capable of taking care of themselves, but what they have to go through to do so is exhausting.
“‘I can’t remember where I’m supposed to be. Let me check my calendar. Oh, I forgot to write on this calender. Let’s check another calendar. Oh, I can’t find that calendar. I’ve lost my phone. Where is the key? I can’t find the key.’
“They’re able to regroup in the early stages and accomplish things,” Baker said, “but the toll is immense.”
Participants in the study underwent cognitive testing and then were randomized into two groups. One group did moderate-intensity aerobic training on treadmills or stationary bikes, striving for a goal of 70% to 85% of heart rate reserve: “That’s about 120 heartbeats per minute for about 30 to 40 minutes for a standard 70-year-old,” Baker said.
The other group did stretching, balance and range of motion exercises designed to allow them to move their body in ways that would help them navigate in real life.
“Folks in the balance-range of motion group said they were thrilled – they could go to soccer games with grandchildren without being concerned about tripping, or they could drive and turn their neck to see the back, which they had not been able to do before,” Baker said.
IMPORTANCE OF SUPPORT
Both groups exercised twice a week with a personal trainer and then two other times weekly on their own for the first 12 months. Combined, the groups completed more than 31,000 exercise sessions during that time, Baker said.
At the end of the 12 months, cognitive function had not declined in either group. That’s impressive, Baker said, because a control group of equally matched people with mild cognitive impairment – who did not exercise – did decline.
Studies have shown that social support is also key to improving brain health. So is it possible the results of the study were due to an increase of social support and not the exercise?
“Well, we don’t know for sure,” Baker said. “But there is enough science showing the benefits of exercise on brain health alone. So this is not something to sweep under the carpet.
“And our recommendation would never be for people with mild cognitive impairment to do this alone,” she added. “They are going to need support. So exercise alone is not a prescription. Exercise with support is a prescription, and that is going to be our recommendation.”
Consumption of seven or more units of alcohol per week is associated with higher iron levels in the brain, according to a study of almost 21,000 people. Iron accumulation in the brain has been linked with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and is a potential mechanism for alcohol-related cognitive decline.
Consumption of seven or more units of alcohol per week is associated with higher iron levels in the brain, according to a study of almost 21,000 people publishing July 14 in the open access journal PLOS Medicine. Iron accumulation in the brain has been linked with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and is a potential mechanism for alcohol-related cognitive decline.
There is growing evidence that even moderate alcohol consumption can adversely impact brain health. Anya Topiwala of the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, and colleagues explored relationships between alcohol consumption and brain iron levels. Their 20,965 participants from the UK Biobank reported their own alcohol consumption, and their brains were scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Almost 7,000 also had their livers imaged using MRI to assess levels of systemic iron. All individuals completed a series of simple tests to assess cognitive and motor function.
Participants’ mean age was 55 years old and 48.6% were female. Although 2.7% classed themselves as non-drinkers, average intake was around 18 units per week, which translates to about 7½ cans of beer or 6 large glasses of wine. The team found that alcohol consumption above seven units per week was associated with markers of higher iron in the basal ganglia, a group of brain regions associated with control of motor movements, procedural learning, eye movement, cognition, emotion and more. Iron accumulation in some brain regions was associated with worse cognitive function.
This is the largest study to date of moderate alcohol consumption and iron accumulation. Although drinking was self-reported and could be underestimated, this was considered the only feasible method to establish such a large cohort’s intake. A limitation of the work is that MRI-derived measures are indirect representations of brain iron, and could conflate other brain changes observed with alcohol consumption with changes in iron levels.
Given the prevalence of moderate drinking, even small associations can have substantial impact across whole populations, and there could be benefits in interventions to reduce consumption in the general population.
Topiwala adds, “In the largest study to date, we found drinking greater than 7 units of alcohol weekly associated with iron accumulation in the brain. Higher brain iron in turn linked to poorer cognitive performance. Iron accumulation could underlie alcohol-related cognitive decline.”
Anya Topiwala, Chaoyue Wang, Klaus P. Ebmeier, Stephen Burgess, Steven Bell, Daniel F. Levey, Hang Zhou, Celeste McCracken, Adriana Roca-Fernández, Steffen E. Petersen, Betty Raman, Masud Husain, Joel Gelernter, Karla L. Miller, Stephen M. Smith, Thomas E. Nichols. Associations between moderate alcohol consumption, brain iron, and cognition in UK Biobank participants: Observational and mendelian randomization analyses. PLOS Medicine, 2022; 19 (7): e1004039 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1004039
Story Source: Materials provided by PLOS. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Although mindfulness is typically geared towards improving mental health and well-being, it may also provide additional benefits to brain health.
Mindfulness may provide modest benefits to cognition, particularly among older adults, finds a new review of evidence led by UCL researchers.
The systematic review and meta-analysis, published in Neuropsychology Review, found that, while mindfulness is typically geared towards improving mental health and well-being, it may also provide additional benefits to brain health.
The study’s lead author, PhD student Tim Whitfield (UCL Psychiatry) said that “the positive effects of mindfulness-based programs on mental health are already relatively well-established. Here, our findings suggest that a small benefit is also conferred to cognition, at least among older adults.”
The researchers reviewed previously published studies of mindfulness, and identified 45 studies that fit their criteria, which incorporated a total of 2,238 study participants. Each study tested the effects of a mindfulness-based intervention delivered by a facilitator in a group setting, over at least four sessions, while excluding mindfulness retreats in order to have a more homogenous set of studies.
The majority of studies involved a certified instructor teaching participants techniques such as sitting meditation, mindful movement and body scan, generally on a weekly basis across six to 12 weeks, while also asking participants to continue the practices in their own time.
The researchers found that overall, mindfulness conferred a small but significant benefit to cognition.
Subgroup analysis revealed that the effect was slightly stronger for people over 60, while there was not a significant effect for people under 60.
Tim Whitfield commented that “executive function is known to decline with age among older adults; the improvement in people over 60 suggests that mindfulness may help guard against cognitive decline, by helping to maintain or restore executive function in late adulthood. It might be easier to restore cognitive functions to previous levels, rather than to improve them beyond the developmental peak.”
When they investigated which aspects of cognition were affected, the researchers found that mindfulness was beneficial only to executive function, and more specifically, there was strong evidence of a small positive effect on working memory (which is one facet of executive function).
The researchers also analyzed whether mindfulness outperformed other ‘active interventions’ (such as brain training, relaxation, or other health or educational programs) or only when compared to people who were not offered any alternative treatment. They found that cognitive benefits of mindfulness were only significant compared with an ‘inactive’ comparison, which means they cannot rule out that the benefits may have been at least partly derived from an expectation of treatment benefits, or social interactions.
The researchers say that more research is needed into which characteristics of mindfulness training may be more likely to confer cognitive benefits, or whether delivering interventions over longer periods, or in intensive retreat settings, might yield greater cognitive benefits.
Senior author Dr Natalie Marchant (UCL Psychiatry) said that they “know mindfulness-based programs benefit mental health, and our paper now suggests that mindfulness may also help to maintain cognitive faculties as people age. Mindfulness practices do not share much in common with cognitive test measures, so it is notable that mindfulness training’s impact appears to transfer to other domains. While our review only identified a small benefit to executive function, it remains possible that some types of mindfulness training might deliver larger gains.”
Not sleeping enough or getting a bad night’s sleep over and over makes it hard to control your appetite. And that sets you up for all sorts of health problems, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.
The link between poor sleep and a greater body mass index (BMI) has been shown in study after study, but researchers typically relied on the memories of the participants to record how well they slept.
Sleep apps on fitness trackers, smartphones and watches have changed all that. In a new study, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers tracked sleep quality for 120,000 people for up to two years.
The results showed sleep durations and patterns are highly variable between people. Despite that, the study found people with BMIs of 30 or above – which is considered obese by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – had slightly shorter mean sleep durations and more variable sleep patterns.
It didn’t take much less sleep to see the effect. People with BMIs over 30 only slept about 15 minutes less than their less weighty counterparts.
There were some limitations to the study. Naps were excluded, other health conditions could not be factored in, and people who use wearable tracking devices are typically younger, healthier and from a higher socioeconomic status than those who do not wear trackers.
“These are quite pricey devices, and remember, they are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” said sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta, the associate program director of the Sleep Medicine Fellowship at Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California.
“The results would need to be validated by the appropriate FDA-approved devices, and because the study is likely on younger people who are more economically well off, does that really apply to older folks we worry about with poor sleep?” said Dasgupta, who was not involved in the study.
However, Dasgupta added, a major plus for the study is that it did monitor people for over two years, and the results corroborated prior research and were “not surprising.”
“While we cannot determine the direction of association from our study result, these findings provide further support to the notion that sleep patterns are associated with weight management and overall health,” the authors wrote.
“The findings also support the potential value of including both sleep duration and individual sleep patterns when studying sleep-related health outcomes.”
LINK BETWEEN SLEEP AND EATING
There is a scientific reason why a lack of sleep is linked to appetite. When you’re sleep deprived, research has shown, levels of a hormone called ghrelin spike while another hormone, leptin, takes a nosedive. The result is an increase in hunger.
“The ‘l’ in leptin stands for lose: It suppresses appetite and therefore contributes to weight loss,” he said. “The ‘g’ in ghrelin stands for gain: This fast-acting hormone increases hunger and leads to weight gain,” Dasgupta said.
Another reason we gain weight is due to an ancient body system called the endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoids bind to the same receptors as the active ingredient in marijuana, which as we know, often triggers the “munchies.”
“When you’re sleep deprived, you’re not like, ‘Oh, you know what, I want some carrots,'” said behavioural neuroscientist Erin Hanlon, who studies the connection between brain systems and behavior at the University of Chicago, in a prior CNN interview.
“You’re craving sweets and salty and starchy things,” she added. “You want those chips, you want a cookie, you want some candy, you know?”
A 2016 study by Hanlon compared the circulating levels of 2-AG, one of the most abundant endocannabinoids, in people who got four nights of normal sleep (more than eight hours) to people who only got 4.5 hours.
People who were sleep-deprived reported greater increases in hunger and appetite and had higher afternoon concentrations of 2-AG than those who slept well. The sleep-deprived participants also had a rough time controlling their urges for high-carb, high-calorie snacks.
GET BETTER SLEEP
Want more control over your appetite? Depending on your age, you are supposed to get between seven and 10 hours of sleep each night.
Getting less has been linked in studies to high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, weight gain, a lack of libido, mood swings, paranoia, depression and a higher risk of diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease, dementia and some cancers.
So sleep a full seven to 10 hours a night, stick to a regular bedtime and get up the same time very day, even on weekends, experts advise.
Adding exercise to your daily routine is a great way to improve your sleep and improve your health. After finishing one 30-minute physical activity, you’ll have less anxiety, lower blood pressure, more sensitivity to insulin and you’ll sleep better that night.
You can also train your brain to get more restful sleep with a few key steps:
During the day, try to get good exposure to natural light, as that will help regulate your circadian rhythm.
Avoid stimulants (coffee, tea) after 3 p.m. and fatty foods before bedtime.
Establish a bedtime routine you can follow each night. Taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating or doing light stretches are all good options.
Make sure your bed and pillows are comfortable and the room is cool: Between 60 and 67 degrees is best. Don’t watch TV or work in your bedroom; you want your brain to think of the room as only for sleep.
Eliminate all lights – even the blue light of cellphones or laptops can be disruptive. Dull sounds, too. Earplugs or white noise machines can be very helpful, but you can create your own with a humidifier or fan.
What if someone told you there was a magic potion by which you could prevent disease, improve your intellect, reduce your stress and be nicer to your family while you’re all cooped up together during the pandemic?
It sounds too good to be true, as if solving those problems would really require dietary supplements, workout programs, diets, meditation and a separate room to cry alone.
It turns out that sleep, according to numerous studies, is the answer. It’s the preventive medicine for conditions related to our physical, mental and emotional health. And despite how important sleep is, it can be difficult to make it a priority.
“During a pandemic such as Covid-19, there’s a potential to induce or exacerbate many sleep issues,” Dr. Matthew Schmitt, a doctor of sleep medicine at Piedmont Healthcare in Georgia, told CNN.
“A lack of quality sleep not only affects how we feel during the daytime, but can also impair our immune system function, which is vital in protecting us from common viral illnesses.”
A sleep routine is just one of the behaviors that is part of sleep hygiene, a buffet of efforts needed to sleep well that include eating healthy meals at regular times and not drinking too much coffee, said Dr. Meir Kryger, a professor of pulmonary medicine and a clinical professor of nursing at Yale School of Medicine in Connecticut.
“All of these things are really interconnected in terms of their function. All of them are connected to the body clock,” Kryger said. “The body is like an orchestra where there’s an orchestra leader that’s sort of the main timer, but everybody else is playing it together and they’re optimizing what they are doing.”
Once you’ve developed your sleep routine,
here are 10 benefits you could gain from the regimen.
1. Helps your body heal and repair itself
Our nightly shut-eye is our bodies’ time for healing and repairing itself from performing its taxing daily functions.
“Imagine you’re a car or something that’s running for 16 hours during the day,” Kryger said. “You’re going to have to do stuff to get back to normal. You just can’t keep on running.”
During sleep is when we produce most of our growth hormone that ultimately results in bone growth. Our tissues rest, relaxing our muscles and reducing inflammation. And each cell and organ have their own clock that “plays a really important role in maximizing or optimizing how our body works,” Kryger added.
2. Lowers risk for disease
Sleep on its own is a protective factor against disease.
When people get too much or too little sleep, “there appears to be an increased risk of deaths … and other diseases raising their ugly heads,” Kryger said, such as heart problems and diabetes. The healing period during sleep also factors in, as it allows cells that would cause disease to repair themselves.
3. Improves cognitive function
Sleep feeds our creativity and cognitive function, which describes our mental abilities to learn, think, reason, remember, problem solve, make decisions and pay attention.
“As you sleep, memories are reactivated, connections between brain cells are strengthened, and information is transferred from short- to long-term,” said a National Sleep Foundation article on the subject. “Without enough quality sleep, we become forgetful.”
4. Reduces stress
Slumber of great quantity and quality can enhance your mood and also encourage the brain’s ability to regulate emotional responses to both neutral and emotional events.
5. Helps maintain a healthy weight
Getting your beauty sleep can help you to maintain a healthy weight or increase your chances of losing excess fat.
Two hormones control our urge to eat: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin tells us that we’re full, while ghrelin communicates hunger.
When we don’t sleep enough, both hormones veer in the wrong direction, Kryger said — ghrelin spikes while leptin declines, resulting in an increase in hunger and the potential to overeat and gain weight.
Sleep helps our bodies to maintain normal levels of the stress hormone cortisol as well, which determines how we hang on to excess fat.
6. Bolsters your immune system
Kryger has seen the immune systems of patients with sleep disorders fail to normally function. Sleep helps our bodies to produce and release cytokines, a type of protein that helps create an immune response by targeting infection and inflammation.
Additionally, “research done actually years ago showed that when people are sleep deprived, they do not have as vigorous a response to vaccination,” Kryger added.
“As we’re thinking about vaccination that’s being developed” for Covid-19, that kind of research is going to be important.
7. May improve your social life
The emotional benefits of sleep can transfer over into your social life. “Just imagine you don’t sleep enough and you’re cranky,” Kryger said. “Who’s going to want to be around you? Another part of it is being cognitively sharp.”
Adequate sleep can help you to be more confident, be more easygoing and support your efforts to do your part at home, he added.
8. Supports your mental health
Mental health disorders are often associated with substandard sleep and a sleep deficit can lead to depressive symptoms even if the person doesn’t have the chronic disorder, Kryger said.
“Getting the right amount of sleep is really important in possibly preventing a mental illness or the appearance of a mental illness,” he added. And in addition to the benefits for mood and stress regulation, sleeping enough “may make the treatment of the mental illnesses more efficacious if the person sleeps enough.”
9. Reduces pain sensitivity
Extending participants’ sleep time during the night or with midday naps, a 2019 study found, restored their pain sensitivity to normal levels in comparison to sleep-deprived individuals, who had a lower threshold for pain.
How this happens would have to be in the realm of perception, Kryger said, which ultimately traces back to the brain. “The brain is where sleep is,” he explained.
10. Increases your likelihood for overall success
Since sleep can improve our health on all fronts, it consequently can help us be the best versions of ourselves. Healthy cognitive functioning, emotional regulation, coping and social life are all foundational to pursuing and achieving our goals and overall well-being.
People React Better to Both Negative and Positive Events
With More Sleep
New research finds that after a night of shorter sleep, people react more emotionally to stressful events the next day — and they don’t find as much joy in the good things. This has important health implications: previous research shows that being unable to maintain positive emotions in the face of stress puts people at risk of inflammation and even an earlier death.
New research from UBC finds that after a night of shorter sleep, people react more emotionally to stressful events the next day – and they don’t find as much joy in the good things. The study, led by health psychologist Nancy Sin, looks at how sleep affects our reaction to both stressful and positive events in daily life.
“When people experience something positive, such as getting a hug or spending time in nature, they typically feel happier that day,” says Nancy Sin, assistant professor in UBC’s department of psychology. “But we found that when a person sleeps less than their usual amount, they don’t have as much of a boost in positive emotions from their positive events.”
People also reported a number of stressful events in their daily lives, including arguments, social tensions, work and family stress, and being discriminated against. When people slept less than usual, they responded to these stressful events with a greater loss of positive emotions. This has important health implications: previous research by Sin and others shows that being unable to maintain positive emotions in the face of stress puts people at risk of inflammation and even an earlier death.
Using daily diary data from a national U.S. sample of almost 2,000 people, Sin analyzed sleep duration and how people responded to negative and positive situations the next day. The participants reported on their experiences and the amount of sleep they had the previous night in daily telephone interviews over eight days.
“The recommended guideline for a good night’s sleep is at least seven hours, yet one in three adults don’t meet this standard,” says Sin. “A large body of research has shown that inadequate sleep increases the risk for mental disorders, chronic health conditions, and premature death. My study adds to this evidence by showing that even minor night-to-night fluctuations in sleep duration can have consequences in how people respond to events in their daily lives.”
Chronic health conditions – such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer – are prevalent among adults, especially as we grow older. Past research suggests that people with health conditions are more reactive when faced with stressful situations, possibly due to wear-and-tear of the physiological stress systems.
“We were also interested in whether adults with chronic health conditions might gain an even larger benefit from sleep than healthy adults,” says Sin. “For those with chronic health conditions, we found that longer sleep – compared to one’s usual sleep duration – led to better responses to positive experiences on the following day.”
Sin hopes that by making sleep a priority, people can have a better quality of life and protect their long-term health.
Nancy L. Sin, Jin H. Wen, Patrick Klaiber, Orfeu M. Buxton, David M. Almeida. Sleep duration and affective reactivity to stressors and positive events in daily life.. Health Psychology, 2020; DOI: 10.1037/hea0001033
University of British Columbia. “People react better to both negative and positive events with more sleep.” ScienceDaily, 15 September 2020
Materials provided by University of British Columbia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length. September 15, 2020
Older adults who consume more than two servings of mushrooms each week may reduce their risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) by 50 percent, according to a new 6-year study conducted by researchers from Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
“This correlation is surprising and encouraging. It seems that a commonly available single ingredient could have a dramatic effect on cognitive decline,” said Assistant Professor Lei Feng, who is from the NUS department of psychological medicine, and the lead author of this work.
The study used six types of mushrooms commonly consumed in Singapore: golden, oyster, shiitake and white button mushrooms, as well as dried and canned mushrooms. However, researchers believe it is likely that other mushrooms would also have beneficial effects.
A serving was defined as three quarters of a cup of cooked mushrooms with an average weight of around 150 grams. Two servings would be equivalent to about half a plate. While the portion sizes act as a guideline, the study found that even one small serving of mushrooms a week may still help reduce chances of MCI.
MCI falls between the typical cognitive decline seen in normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. Older adults with MCI often exhibit some form of memory loss or forgetfulness and may also show declines in other types of cognitive function such as language, attention and visuospatial abilities.
These changes can be subtle, as they do not reflect the disabling cognitive deficits that can impact everyday life activities, which are characteristic of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
The research, which was conducted from 2011 to 2017, collected data from more than 600 Chinese seniors over the age of 60 living in Singapore. The findings are published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
“People with MCI are still able to carry out their normal daily activities. So, what we had to determine in this study is whether these seniors had poorer performance on standard neuropsychologist tests than other people of the same age and education background,” Feng said.
As such, the researchers conducted extensive interviews which took into account demographic information, medical history, psychological factors, and dietary habits. A nurse measured blood pressure, weight, height, hand grip, and walking speed. The participants also completed a simple screen test on cognition, depression and anxiety.
Finally, a two-hour standard neuropsychological evaluation was performed, along with a dementia rating. The overall results of these tests were discussed in depth with psychiatrists to come to a diagnostic consensus.
The researchers believe the reason for the reduced prevalence of MCI in mushroom eaters may come down to a specific compound found in almost all varieties. “We’re very interested in a compound called ergothioneine (ET),” said Dr. Irwin Cheah, Senior Research Fellow at the NUS Department of Biochemistry.
“ET is a unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory which humans are unable to synthesize on their own. But it can be obtained from dietary sources, one of the main ones being mushrooms.”
A previous study by the team on elderly Singaporeans revealed that plasma levels of ET in participants with MCI were significantly lower than age-matched healthy individuals. The findings led to the belief that an ET deficiency may be a risk factor for neurodegeneration, and increasing ET intake through mushroom consumption might possibly promote cognitive health.
The next step is to conduct a randomized controlled trial with the pure compound of ET and other plant-based ingredients, such as L-theanine and catechins from tea leaves, to determine the potential of such phytonutrients in delaying cognitive decline.
By Traci PedersenAssociate News Editor 13 Mar 2019
Blueberries deliver the most delicious wallop of vitamin C found on the planet (in my humble opinion). One serving supplies 25 percent of your daily C requirement plus additional heart-healthy fiber and manganese, important to bone health. A super-achiever when it comes to antioxidant strength, this fruit may also lower your risk of heart disease, cancer, and, new research suggests, even Alzheimer’s disease.
A team of University of Cincinnati scientists led by Dr. Robert Krikorian says the healthful antioxidants within blueberries provide a real benefit in improving memory and cognitive function in some older adults. Based on their work, they believe adding blueberries to your diet may help you prevent neurocognitive decline.
Blueberries acquire their deep color from anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid that acts as an antioxidant within the fruit, explains the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. Generally, antioxidants help to prevent age-related damage at the cellular level within the plants. While some scientists believe consuming foods rich in antioxidants will help delay aging, not all scientists, including those at the National Institutes of Health, entirely support that theory.
Still, eating a diet rich in fruits and veggies is unquestionably good for your health with many scientists analyzing and testing specific foods to understand whether they might prevent a particular illness. Quite a few studies, Krikorian and his colleagues note, have found blueberries beneficial in preventing dementia.
Anthocyanins within blueberries provide a real benefit in improving memory
and cognitive function in some older adults: study.
One type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. This neurodegenerative disorder develops in a healthy brain, its symptoms appearing slowly and then worsening over time. Eventually, this disease becomes severe enough to interfere with daily tasks and in the end disrupts even the autonomic nervous system, which controls heart rate and breathing. If they live long enough, Alzheimer’s patients die because their breathing stops. Currently 5.3 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, yet as the nation’s population grows older, that number will almost inevitably rise. The Alzheimer’s Association calculates that the number of Americans with this disorder will reach more than seven million by 2025.
How can science slow this trend?
Following up on earlier clinical trials showing blueberries boost cognitive performance, Krikorian and colleagues conducted two new studies. The first involved 47 adults, 68 years old or older and beginning to show signs of mild cognitive impairment — a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. First, the researchers conducted tests and a brain scan for each participant. Then, after forming two groups, one group of participants ate a placebo powder once a day for 16 weeks, while the other consumed a freeze-dried blueberry powder (equivalent to a single cup of berries).
Conducting the same tests and comparing the groups, Krikorian and his colleagues observed comparative improvement in cognitive performance and brain function among the adults who ate blueberry powder.
“The blueberry group demonstrated improved memory and improved access to words and concepts,” said Krikorian in a statement to the press. Additionally, a second scan showed increased activity in the brains of those in the blueberry group.
The team’s second study included 94 people between the ages of 62 and 80, all confessing to some memory problems. The researchers believed these participants to be in better cognitive “shape” than the first group, however no objective measurements verified this. For this study, the researchers divided the participants into four groups. Each group received either blueberry powder, fish oil, fish oil and powder, or placebo.
A hoped-for replication of the first study did not occur. Cognition proved somewhat better for those taking either blueberry powder or fish oil separately, yet memory barely improved, certainly not as much as in the first study, Krikorian noted. Even the scans showed similar lukewarm results. The team believes participants’ less severe cognitive impairments contributed to this weakened effect.
Blueberries may not show measurable benefit for those with minor memory issues or who have not yet developed cognitive problems, the combined results of the two studies suggest. Perhaps blueberries effectively treat only those patients who already show signs of mental impairment.
Nevertheless, Krikorian says, the very same ingredient that bestows color may provide blueberries with their brain benefits; in past animal studies, scientists have shown anthocyanins improve cognition.
By Susan Scutti Mar 13, 2016
source: Krikorian R, et al. Blueberry Fruit Supplementation in Human Cognitive Aging.
Meeting of the American Chemical Society. 2016.
If you’re between 55 and 75 years old, you may want to try playing 3D platform games like Super Mario 64 to stave off mild cognitive impairment and perhaps even prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
That’s the finding of a new Canadian study by Université de Montréal psychology professors Gregory West, Sylvie Belleville and Isabelle Peretz. Published in PLOS ONE, it was done in cooperation with the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM), Benjamin Rich Zendel of Memorial University in Newfoundland, and Véronique Bohbot of Montreal’s Douglas Hospital Research Centre.
In two separate studies, in 2014 and 2017, young adults in their twenties were asked to play 3D video games of logic and puzzles on platforms like Super Mario 64. Findings showed that the gray matter in their hippocampus increased after training.
The hippocampus is the region of the brain primarily associated with spatial and episodic memory, a key factor in long-term cognitive health. The gray matter it contains acts as a marker for neurological disorders that can occur over time, including mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s.
West and his colleagues wanted to see if the results could be replicated among healthy seniors.
The research team recruited 33 people, ages 55 to 75, who were randomly assigned to three separate groups. Participants were instructed to play Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, take piano lessons (for the first time in their life) with the same frequency and in the same sequence, or not perform any particular task.
The experiment lasted six months and was conducted in the participants’ homes, where the consoles and pianos, provided by West’s team, were installed.
The researchers evaluated the effects of the experiment at the beginning and at the end of the exercise, six months later, using two different measurements: cognitive performance tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure variations in the volume of gray matter. This enabled them to observe brain activity and any changes in three areas:
the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex that controls planning, decision-making and inhibition;
the cerebellum that plays a major role in motor control and balance; and
the hippocampus, the centre of spatial and episodic memory.
According to the MRI test results, only the participants in the video-game cohort saw increases in gray matter volume in the hippocampus and cerebellum. Their short-term memory also improved.
The tests also revealed gray matter increases in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and cerebellum of the participants who took piano lessons, whereas some degree of atrophy was noted in all three areas of the brain among those in the passive control group.
What mechanism triggers increases in gray matter, especially in the hippocampus, after playing video games? “3-D video games engage the hippocampus into creating a cognitive map, or a mental representation, of the virtual environment that the brain is exploring.,” said West. “Several studies suggest stimulation of the hippocampus increases both functional activity and gray matter within this region.”
Conversely, when the brain is not learning new things, gray matter atrophies as people age. “The good news is that we can reverse those effects and increase volume by learning something new, and games like Super Mario 64, which activate the hippocampus, seem to hold some potential in that respect,” said West. Added Belleville: “These findings can also be used to drive future research on Alzheimer’s, since there is a link between the volume of the hippocampus and the risk of developing the disease.”
“It remains to be seen,” concluded West, “whether it is specifically brain activity associated with spatial memory that affects plasticity, or whether it’s simply a matter of learning something new.”
Story Source: December 6, 2017 Materials provided by Université de Montréal. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Journal Reference: Greg L. West, Benjamin Rich Zendel, Kyoko Konishi, Jessica Benady-Chorney, Veronique D. Bohbot, Isabelle Peretz, Sylvie Belleville. Playing Super Mario 64 increases hippocampal grey matter in older adults. PLOS ONE, 2017; 12 (12): e0187779 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0187779
Loneliness Even Unhealthier Than Obesity, Should Be A Public Health Priority: Psychologist
Loneliness should be a major public health concern, according to an American psychologist.
Loneliness is a major health risk, like obesity or smoking, and public health programs should address it in the same way, says a psychologist.
New research by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, found that social isolation contributes as strongly to mortality as does smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
“This is something that we should all be taking seriously for our health,” she said.
Holt-Lunstad’s research, presented at a conference of the American Psychological Association, analyzed studies on mortality risk to find out how feelings of social isolation and loneliness compared to other risk factors. She found that it has a greater effect than obesity or exercise.
Having few social connections is associated with various health effects, she said, such as cardiovascular problems, immune response, cognitive decline, and cellular aging, she said. But having other people around helps in other ways too: people are more likely to take their medication, to exercise, and to visit the doctor with encouragement from others.
“Our relationships help provide a sense of meaning and purpose in life. And that can translate to better self-care as well as less risk-taking,” said Holt-Lunstad.
It’s an important message at a time when more Canadians than ever are living alone – one of the risk factors examined by Holt-Lunstad in her research.
Census data shows that 28.2 per cent of Canadian adults lived alone in 2016 – the highest proportion since Confederation. And, for the first time, this was the most common household type in the country.
This is partly due to Canada’s aging population, according to Statistics Canada, though more than one-in-10 Canadians under 60 also lives alone.
But everyone can feel the effects of loneliness, said Holt-Lunstad.
“We tend to assume that this is an issue that may be specific to older adults or the elderly, and while of course, that population is important to consider, it’s not isolated to that group,” she said.
“When we look across the data, this affects both men and women. We don’t see any effect in terms of it being stronger in older age and in fact, we have some evidence to suggest that it may be stronger in those under 65.”
Until the age of 60, men are more likely than women to live by themselves. This reverses after 60, likely due to men’s lower average life span, meaning there are lots of widowed women. More than half of women over 85 are living alone, according to census data.
A recent survey of seniors by the Canadian Association of Retired Persons found that more than 16 per cent of respondents reported lacking companionship. Fourteen per cent said they have nobody to talk to.
And another survey by the Vancouver Foundation in 2012 found that 25 per cent of residents of that city said they were alone more often than they would like to be.
Public health programs
Holt-Lunstad would like to see information about the effects of loneliness be included in public health programs in the same way information about the dangers of smoking or obesity is.
“I’ve heard people say things like, ‘You can’t put good relationships in the water.’ Or, ‘We can’t legislate that like we may be able to do with a Clean Air Act,’” she said. While that’s true, she believes people should prioritize their relationships in the same way that many have started to do with regular exercise.
“If we approach it as we can all be working on nurturing and fostering our own relationships, this may have a much broader population-wide impact.”
She also believes that research about the health impacts of loneliness should be included in medical training so that doctors can screen their patients for social isolation and provide information when needed. Kids should also learn about relationships the same way that they learn about nutrition, as a way to prevent future problems.
Holt-Lunstad’s research will be published next month in the journal The American Psychologist.
Eating blueberries could help improve memory and cognitive function, a new study finds.
Researchers recruited 47 older adults with mild cognitive impairment.
Some of them had the equivalent of a cup of blueberries in powder form each day for 16 weeks.
Others had a placebo powder.
Professor Robert Krikorian, who led the research, explained the results:
“There was improvement in cognitive performance and brain function in those who had the blueberry powder compared with those who took the placebo.
The blueberry group demonstrated improved memory and improved access to words and concepts.
Our new findings corroborate those of previous animal studies and preliminary human studies, adding further support to the notion that blueberries can have a real benefit in improving memory and cognitive function in some older adults.”
A second study examined older people who thought their memories might be declining, but who did not have a diagnosis.
They were split into four groups with comparison groups for fish oil and various other combinations.
Professor Krikorian said:
“The results were not as robust as with the first study.
Cognition was somewhat better for those with powder or fish oil separately, but there was little improvement with memory.”
It could be that the blueberries are better for people with some impairments and not so effective for those who are more healthy, Professor Krikorian said.
The study was presented at the at the 251st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
As we age, it’s natural to worry about possible declines in our mental and brain health. Many older adults are concerned about things like memory loss and poorer attention, forgetting names, and taking longer to learn new things. As a result, as we get older we may feel more distress, sadness, and/ or anxiety that can decrease our quality of life. However, we can do something to address these concerns. The answer is mindfulness. Research shows that it can improve brain functioning, resulting in thinking and feeling better as we get older (e.g., Chambers et al., 2007; Chiesa et al., 2010; Prakash, 2014).
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an Eastern meditation practice that originates from Buddhism (Baer, 2003). It involves directing our attention to the present moment. Mindfulness can help block irrelevant information and enhance emotional control which in turn can improve the mental health of older adults. For instance, mindfulness could be sitting quietly and not letting your mind wonder, but instead focusing on your breathing. You would breathe in slowly from your nose and breathe out slowly from your mouth.
Mindfulness helps cognitive health
Practicing mindfulness improves functioning in certain brain areas associated with paying attention and keeping focus. It can help us become less distracted and increase our focus on what we want to pay attention to (Prakash, 2014). Research on mindfulness demonstrated improvements in concentration, attention, and even memory (Chambers et al., 2007; Chiesa et al., 2010; Prakash, 2014).
Mindfulness helps emotional health
In addition, mindfulness can benefit our emotional health as we age. It promotes an increase in self-awareness that allows for better control of our feelings. We can use mindfulness to focus on positive feelings, and less so on the negative feelings. Research (Brown & Ryan, 2003; Chambers et al., 2007; Ostafin et al., 2006) has shown that mindfulness can:
Decrease depressive symptoms;
Reduce focus on negativity;
Reduce focus on distress; and
Mindfulness benefits us in the short term and long term
In research studies, short-term practice of mindfulness (i.e., practicing mindfulness for 10 days) has helped to improve attention and focus by reducing the effects of distraction (Chambers et al., 2007; Ostafin et al., 2006). Long-term mindfulness training shows greater effects in being able to maintain focused attention which leads to better thinking and mood. So, as with most things, “more” is “better”. The more we practice mindfulness consistently, the better our mental health will be as we age!
By Flora Ma (Clinical Psychology PhD student, Palo Alto University) and
Rowena Gomez, PhD (Associate Professor, Palo Alto University)
MAY 25, 2016
Flora Ma is a Clinical Psychology PhD student at Palo Alto University. She graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2014, with a major in Cognitive Systems. She has particular research and clinical interests in aging, neuropsychology and life span studies. She is also a student member of the American Psychological Association.
Dr. Rowena Gomez is Director of Clinical Training for the PhD Clinical Psychology Program and Associate Professor at Palo Alto University. Dr. Gomez’s research focus has been in geropsychology, neuropsychology, and depression.
Baer, R. A. (2003). Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention: A conceptual and empirical review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. http://doi.org/10.1093/clipsy/bpg015
Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822–848. http://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1682
Chambers, R., Lo, B. C. Y., & Allen, N. B. (2008). The impact of intensive mindfulness training on attentional control, cognitive style, and affect. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32(3), 303–322. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-007-9119-0
Chiesa, A., Calati, R., & Serretti, A. (2011). Does mindfulness training improve cognitive abilities? A systematic review of neuropsychological findings. Clinical Psychology Review. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.11.003
Ostafin, B. D., Chawla, N., Bowen, S., Dillworth, T. M., Witkiewitz, K., & Marlatt, G. A. (2006). Intensive Mindfulness Training and the Reduction of Psychological Distress: A Preliminary Study. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 13(3), 191–197. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cbpra.2005.12.001
Prakash, R. S., De Leon, A. A., Patterson, B., Schirda, B. L., & Janssen, A. L. (2014). Mindfulness and the aging brain: A proposed paradigm shift. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2014.00120