Exercise May Slow Brain Disease

hiking.jpgAnother study has been published that supports a relationship between physical fitness and brain volume. This study explored the rate of brain shrinkage or cell loss in persons with mild Alzheimer’s disease. Subjects had their peak oxygen demand measured while running on a treadmill and this was related to their brain shrinkage as estimated by MRI scan.

Results indicate that those persons suffering AD who were more physically fit had less brain shrinkage than less-fit participants. Curiously, these same persons did not do significantly better on tests for mental performance. The authors suggested that there were not enough participants to see the difference in cognitive performance and that the study used only one measurement point which prohibited demonstration of a conclusion.

However, this study together with other research further underscores an important relationship between blood flow, cardiac health, and brain health (e.g. brain fitness).

Get your tennis shoes on and get moving!

Try the Fit Brains brain games.

Sunshine on the Brain

beach1.jpgThe summer months bring warm weather, blue sky, and plenty of sunshine. For some, if not most, we may notice our mood becomes a bit happier. Is there a relationship between the sunshine and our mood? Probably, but why?

Some studies have reported a relationship between Vitamin D that is derived from sunshine and different physiological measures in the human body. Sunlight has also been related to mood with a disorder known as “Seasonal Affective Disorder” in which those not exposed to enough sunlight can become depressed. Indeed, special lights have been prescribed for those with seasonal affective disorder to help their brains gain more ultraviolet exposure to lift their mood.

Sunshine also tends to come with blue sky, relates to an increased ability to get outside and move about in nature, and to recreate more. Each of these factors is important and is related indirectly to mood enhancement.

It is important to pay attention to your own mood and determine what environmental factors may help you feel happier. If sunshine and blue sky lift your spirits try to prescribe yourself increased time outside. You may feel more energy, higher sense of self and increased productivity.

Take the suntan lotion with you!

Try the Fit Brains brain games.

How about Golf and Brain Health

golfing.jpgBefore all of you jump up and down celebrating another reason to miss work and play 18, let me remind you that this particular blog is speculative with some educated guess mixed in. Having said that, I am happy to for any grant funding to study the effects of playing golf on brain health!

I began to think about the health benefits of golf some time ago, but I grew more interested during a few rounds of the game with my son. As you know, I have proposed and studied five major domains to my brain health lifestyle: these include socialization, mental stimulation (brain fitness, brain games), physical activity, spirituality, and nutrition. Golf certainly includes four of the five components and may include all five.

Golf is a game that is social. In fact, one typically plays the game with another partner and sometimes three other partners. An even more brain healthy opportunity arises when one plays the game alone and is matched with strangers to play the round. This forces a “complex and novel” environment on you that promotes brain health.

Golf is a game that certainly involves physical activity, particularly if you walk and do not ride in a cart. As 25% of the blood from each heartbeat goes to the brain there can be tremendous blood perfusion to the brain during a game of golf. This simply considers the walking and not the swinging and body motion mechanics of the golf swing.

Golf involves mental stimulation in the forms of conversation and story telling with your partners, arithmetic calculations while keeping score which can involve three digits, keeping track of your shots which demands memory, and probably trying to keep track of your partner’s shots so there is no funny business going on. There is also planning, strategy and decision making, judgment, and estimation of distance and space skills involved.

Golf can be a spiritual experience to reduce stress, have fun, slow down, and enjoy nature. Golf courses tend to provide nice scenery and a pleasant surrounding. Golf provides you an opportunity to reflect and to set priorities.

Finally, Golf can include good nutrition if the proper foods and beverages are selected before, during, and after the game. Fruits, vegetables, and fish are always great items in a brain health diet.

I believe golf is a natural activity that provides many aspects of the brain health lifestyle I have discussed and written about. So long as one does not let a poor shot or poor score raise his or her stress level too much!

Hit the links, it might just be good for your brain!

Try the Fit Brains brain games.

Life Expectancy in the United States

child.jpgRecent data indicates Americans are living longer than ever before as life expectancy hit 78.1 years in 2006. Rates for 14 of the top 15 causes of death fell in 2006 according the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most significant decline in cause of death was attributed to influenza and pneumonia that fell nearly 13% from the previous year.

Life expectancy of 78.1 is up from 77.8 years in 2005 representing a continued rise over the past decades. Women have a life expectancy of 80.7 years while men remain somewhat behind at 75.4 years. Racial disparities also exist with white women’s life expectancy at 81 years compared to 76.9 for black women. White men’s life expectancy was 76 years and black men at 70.

The top two causes of death include heart disease and cancer followed by stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases such as emphysema and then accidents. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.

Gains made in life expectancy represent an opportunity for continued years of quality of life. Getting started earlier in life with a proactive lifestyle (physical activity, brain fitness, brain games etc.) including that designed for the heart and brain can help to maximize the quality with the increased quantity of life.

Try the Fit Brains brain games.

Rhythms, Nature and Brain Health

waterfall.jpgThe first sound we may perceive as a budding human being on planet earth is the heart beat of our mother. Our brain appreciates rhythm and harmony for stress tends to be limited in such situations. Breathing in a rhythmical manner is taught to reduce stress. Scuba divers describe the peace of being under water when they can hear their breathing in an otherwise quiet environment. Humans continue to migrate to the oceans as a form of vacation where waves provide a rhythm. Others venture to the woods where there is little to distract an inner peace.

These are a few examples of how nature provides our brains with environments that promote rhythm and perhaps stabilize the symmetry of our two brain hemispheres. Our typical daily life takes us out of rhythm and hence causes a stressful disequilibrium in our brain. Research on animals indicates that an environment that is too stimulating leads to slowed brain development. Our challenge is to be conscious of our own daily behavior and the types of environments we expose our brains.

Make it a goal to seek out environments that promote peace and rhythms for your brain. This will help to reduce stress by reducing the amount of stimulation that is not healthy. A walk in the woods, a stroll on the beach, or even witness to a sunset can be more health promoting than you might imagine. Anytime you become conscious of your breathing and surrounding in a safe environment is typically a healthy moment.

Lifestyle can Enhance Memory Function

Brain health is now a popular practice with more attention being drawn to this part of our being everyday. Dr. Nussbaum has proposed a 5 factor lifestyle to promote brain health to include (1) physical activity, (2) mental stimulation (e.g. brain games), (3) socialization, (4) spirituality, and (4) nutrition. While each of these factors has research-based activities that demonstrate a relationship to reduced risk of dementia, there has not been a study that measures the effect of all factors integrated into a comprehensive program.

Teaming with Emeritus Assisted Living, Dr. Nussbaum completed a six week pilot investigation on the effects of his brain health lifestyle on memory, mood, medical measures such as cholesterol, and quality of life. Twelve independent living and healthy adults (mean age 84) took part in the six week study and were compared to a control group of nine older adults. The two groups did not differ on age, education or other demographic variables. No study participants had dementia, psychiatric illness, or substance abuse.

Study participants completed one research based activity in each of the four factors on a daily basis and they consumed a special brain health diet for the nutrition factor. Controls simply lived their life with the same routine. Results include a significant improvement in delayed recall (20-25 minutes delay), reduced weight, enhanced quality of life as measured by self-report and staff based observations, and general knowledge of the human brain and brain health.

This is one of the first studies to look at the effects of a comprehensive lifestyle approach on brain health.

Just when I beat my Caffeine Habit!

I was very proud of myself recently when I generated enough determination to quit my perceived addiction to caffeine in the form of coffee. While it is true that I only consumed one cup of coffee in the morning to get my jump on the day, it is also true that my brain demanded that one cup. I know this because when I stopped or missed my cup of coffee I felt a bit sluggish and then the headaches set in if I did not get the fix for several days. We refer to this as an addiction, though some do not like to hear that word to describe their (my) behavior.

After nearly one month of not consuming any coffee and getting through the withdrawal symptoms, I pick up a new research discovery in the Journal of Neuroinflammation (volume 6, 2008) that reports caffeine blocks disruption of blood brain barrier in a rabbit model of Alzheimer’s disease. It seems caffeine consumed in the equivalent of one cup of coffee daily protects against high cholesterol diet induced increases in disruptions of the blood brain barrier, and caffeine might be useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
If high levels of serum cholesterol and disruption of the blood brain barrier are indeed underlying mechanisms in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s it suggests I need to reconsider starting my habit again!

The important message in the story is that we continue to monitor the new findings of lifestyle and brain health and change our behavior accordingly. This should not occur in an impulsive way. Rather, the negative effects need to be weighed against the positive effects of particular behaviors. For me, I think I will restart my consumption of coffee, but keep it to ½ cup a day. Moderation is typically a great idea. In the meantime, I will keep an eye out for replication of this finding on the relationship between caffeine and protection against Alzheimer’s.