Moving When Young May Strengthen the Adult Brain

Moving When Young May Strengthen the Adult Brain


Being active in youth may change the inner workings of brain cells much later in life and sharpen some types of thinking, according to a remarkable new neurological study involving rats.

The study suggests that the effects of youthful exercise on the brain could linger deep into adulthood, potentially providing a buffer against the declines in brain health and memory that otherwise occur with age.

hamster wheel Nanette Hoogslag n Getty Images

hamster wheel Nanette Hoogslag/Getty Images

Most of us who are past the age of 40 are aware from doleful personal experience that mental acuity wanes as the decades pass. The deficits are often subtle — names and other nouns slide just out of our mind’s reach — but pervasive.

Some scientists have wondered whether the effects of this decline might be lessened if we started the downward slope from a higher peak, a condition that has been termed having a “cognitive reserve.”

Eating in Sync with Your Body Clock May Help Curb Fat Gain

(Reuters Health) – Timing meals relative to your own body clock, rather than to the time of day, may affect how lean you are, researchers suggest.

Studies have shown that eating later in the day ups your risk of weight gain. However, the impact of a person’s body (biological) clock – independent of the time of day – has not been tested until now, according to Dr. Andrew McHill of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and colleagues.

“Our findings could be considered a reason not to eat right before going to sleep, but they’re also a reason not to eat later in the evening, even if you are planning to go to bed at a later time,” McHill told Reuters Health by email.

The team recruited 110 college students ages 18 to 22 (about 60 percent male) for a 30-day study of sleep times and food intake.

The students completed questionnaires about their sleep habits at the outset of the study, as well as daily electronic sleep-wake and exercise diaries. They also wore motion monitors throughout the study to help track sleep-wake timing.

For one week during the study, participants used a mobile phone app to time-stamp, document and record their food intake during their regular routines.

They were also evaluated for one night at the hospital to see what time their level of the hormone melatonin began to rise – which marks the beginning of a person’s biological night – and to assess their body composition (i.e., muscle mass and fat).

Melatonin onset timing was similar for both lean participants and those with a higher percentage of body fat, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study, online September 6.

However, those with a higher percentage of body fat – 8.7 percent higher in women and 10.1 percent higher in men – ate most of their calories about an hour closer to the time of melatonin onset than did lean participants.

There was no relationship between body composition and when (clock hour) they ate, how many calories they consumed, what kind of food they had, their exercise or activity level or sleep duration.

“While it’s not possible to know the timing of your melatonin onset without having it measured very precisely in dim lighting, we tend to think that melatonin levels rise about two hours prior to habitual sleep onset,” McHill explained.

What about waking up and eating a snack in the middle of the night?

“This would also be a time when melatonin is high and your body clock is promoting sleep and fasting,” he said, “so we would consider that a time that food consumption could lead to higher body fat if done repeatedly over a long period of time.”

McHill cautioned that the findings don’t show cause and effect. To do that, he said, “randomized controlled trials that include altering the timing of meals of the exact same food content in relation to melatonin timing (e.g., providing meals within four hours of melatonin onset or restricting calories to when melatonin concentrations are low) are needed.”

It’s also important to study groups other than college students, and the team has already begun to track meal timing in older and ill populations.

Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, a nutritional epidemiologist at Harvard Chan School of Public Health in Boston who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health he agrees that “the takeaway is that eating earlier before bed may be better” – perhaps as much as 4 to 5 hours earlier.

However, “actual experiments to show direct long-term weight loss and health benefits from consistently eating earlier before bed are needed,” he added by email.

“Be vigilant of your food intake as time to sleep approaches,” Dr. Jocelyn Cheng, a neurologist at NYU Langone Health in New York City urged in an email to Reuters Health.

“If you notice yourself eating more during this period compared to earlier in the day, consider redistributing your meals, snacks included,” said Cheng, who was not involved in the study.

Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online September 6, 2017.

8 Secrets of Fit Business Travelers

8 Secrets of Fit Business Travelers

Got time to kill during a layover  Walk through the airport instead of resting in a lounge. (Getty Images)

Got time to kill during a layover Walk through the airport instead of resting in a lounge. (Getty Images)

It’s easy to fall off track when traveling for work. Not only must you break from a home routine that hopefully keeps you happy and healthy, but you’re also faced with work-related stressors, including long days of sitting in meetings, aches and pains from airline travel and different beds and, potentially, a battle with jet lag. But you don’t have to neglect your fitness even when traveling for business. Consider the following tips for staying fit on the road:

1. Embrace your surroundings.

Even if you’re “on the clock,” it’s important to find some time to explore and sightsee. This doesn’t have to be an epic walk through downtown Chicago or the hills of San Francisco – though that would certainly be great! Simply taking a walk in the neighborhood surrounding your hotel is enough to get your blood pumping and give you an opportunity to take in some of the local flavor.

2. Get outside.

If you have some downtime between sales calls, seek some adventure. Go kayaking. Find a local hiking trail and head out into the woods for a break from the modern world. Go swimming in the hotel pool. Rent a bicycle and go for an early morning ride before your first meeting. Or, if your family joined you, set aside time to take a long walk along the water’s edge looking for seashells with your kids or to swim in the ocean and try to catch some waves.

3. Plan movement opportunities each day.

It’s easy for business travelers to remain fairly sedentary for work and eat less-than-healthy foods while on the go or while networking in the evenings. If possible, choose a hotel with a nice fitness center that is open at the hours that best suit your schedule, and then schedule those workouts so they’re as prominent on your calendar as your other responsibilities. You can also perform bodyweight exercises or pack small exercise equipment – such as a yoga mat, resistance bands or suspension training system – that you can use in your hotel room. And don’t forget your running shoes and workout clothes.

4. Add movement in small ways.

Finding ways to incorporate some additional movement into an otherwise sedentary day is important. It may sound cliche, but taking the stairs in the hotel, conducting walking meetings, parking far from your destination and even walking in the airport during layovers can add much-needed movement to your time away.

5. Use a pedometer or fitness tracker.

Keeping tabs on your physical activity is a great way to ensure that you don’t fall completely off track while traveling. You don’t necessarily need to hit your usual targets, but watching your numbers and adding an evening activity is a great way to counterbalance a slow day. Don’t forget, however, that most of these devices are not waterproof, so be sure to remove them before diving in the hotel pool or hitting the beach.

6. Do something!

Doing something – even if it’s below your usual activity level – is always better than nothing. You may not get the same duration or intensity during your workouts when you’re traveling, but you can aim for weight and fitness maintenance during a business trip. Remember: It doesn’t take long for gains in strength or cardiorespiratory fitness to take a hit during a period of inactivity. By performing some activity while on the road, you may be able to avoid having to regain lost fitness when you get home.

 7. Stay hydrated.

This may seem obvious, but many people forget to stay hydrated while traveling – especially if they’re visiting a warmer, more humid environment than the one back home. Be sure to bring plenty of water if you’ll be sitting in meetings at a conference or in your car making calls. Staying properly hydrated is a key element of good health.

8. Have fun!

Traveling is a great opportunity to try new types of physical activity and to explore an environment that may be very different from your usual surroundings. If possible, hike in the mountains, go tubing in the river or swim in the ocean. At the very least, walk downtown in a big city and try the local cuisine. The possibilities are endless when you’re in a new place – so seize them!


By Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D., Contributor

How Exercise Could Help You Learn a New Language

How Exercise Could Help You Learn a New Language

Learning a second language as an adult is difficult. But the process may be eased if you exercise while learning.

physed-cycling-masteA new study reports that working out during a language class amplifies people’s ability to memorize, retain and understand new vocabulary. The findings provide more evidence that to engage our minds, we should move our bodies.

In recent years, a wealth of studies in both animals and people have shown that we learn differently if we also exercise. Lab rodents given access to running wheels create and maintain memories better than animals that are sedentary, for instance. And students consistently perform better on academic tests if they participate in some kind of physical activity during the school day.

Many scientists suspect that exercise alters the biology of the brain in ways that make it more malleable and receptive to new information, a process that scientists refer to as plasticity.

But many questions have remained unanswered about movement and learning, including whether exercise is most beneficial before, during or after instruction and how much and what types of exercise might be best.

So for the new study, which was published recently in PLOS One, researchers in China and Italy decided to home in on language learning and the adult brain.

Language learning is interesting. As young children, almost all of us picked up our first language easily. We didn’t have to be formally taught; we simply absorbed words and concepts.

But by early adulthood, the brain generally begins to lose some of its innate language capability. It displays less plasticity in areas of the brain related to language. As a result, for most of us, it becomes harder to learn a second language after childhood.

To see what effects exercise might have on this process, the researchers first recruited 40 college-age Chinese men and women who were trying to learn English. The students had some facility with this second language but were far from proficient.

The researchers then divided the students into two groups. Those in one group would continue to learn English as they had before, primarily while seated in rote vocabulary-memorization sessions.

The others would supplement these sessions with exercise.

Specifically, the students would ride exercise bikes at a gentle pace (about 60 percent of their maximum aerobic capacity) beginning 20 minutes before the start of the lessons and continuing throughout the 15 minutes or so of instruction.

Both groups learned their new vocabulary by watching words projected onto large screens, together with comparable pictures, such as “apple” and a Red Delicious. They were shown 40 words per session, with the sequence repeated several times.

Afterward, the students all rested briefly and then completed a vocabulary quiz, using computer keys to note as quickly as possible whether a word was with its correct picture. They also responded to sentences using the new words, marking whether the sentences were accurate or, in the case of “The apple is a dentist,” nonsensical. Most linguists feel that understanding sentences shows greater mastery of a new language than does simple vocabulary improvement.

The students completed eight vocabulary sessions over the course of two months.

And at the end of each lesson, the students who had ridden bikes performed better on the subsequent vocabulary tests than did the students who sat still.

They also became more proficient at recognizing proper sentences than the sedentary students, although that difference did not emerge until after several weeks of instruction.

Perhaps most interesting, the gains in vocabulary and comprehension lingered longest for the cyclists. When the researchers asked the students to return to the lab for a final round of testing a month after the lessons — without practicing in the meantime — the cyclists remembered words and understood them in sentences more accurately than did the students who had not moved.

“The results suggest that physical activity during learning improves that learning,” says Simone Sulpizio, a professor of psychology and linguistics at the University Vita-Salute San Raffaele in Milan, Italy, and a study co-author.

These improvements extend beyond simply aiding in memorization, she added. The exercise also deepened language learners’ grasp of how to use their newly acquired words.

This study involved college students performing relatively light exercise, though, and cannot tell us whether other people completing other types of exercise would achieve the same results.

It also offers no clues about what is occurring inside the brain that might be contributing to the benefits of the exercise. But many past studies have shown that exercise prompts the release of multiple neurochemicals in the brain that increase the number of new brain cells and the connections between neurons, Dr. Sulpizio says. These effects improve the brain’s plasticity and augment the ability to lear

From a real-world standpoint, the study’s implications might seem at first to be impractical. Few classrooms are equipped with stationary bicycles. But specialized equipment is probably unnecessary, Dr. Sulpizio says.

“We are not suggesting that schools or teachers buy lots of bicycles,” she says. “A simpler take-home message may be that instruction should be flanked by physical activity. Sitting for hours and hours without moving is not the best way to learn.”