Whole Life Magazine

August / September 2017

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healthy living BEING A RECEIVER OF LOVE BEING A RECEIVER OF LOVE W e've all heard that exercise improves our brain as we age, but research fi ndings have been sort of non-specifi c. What we really want to know is which exer- cise does what in the brain? In 2016 scientists looked at 39 studies to assess the potential impact of varying kinds of exer- cise, intensities, and durations on brain health in people over 50. The study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, ana- lyzed several categories of exer- cise, aerobic, resistance (weights), multi-component (both aerobic and resistance), tai chi, and yoga. The overall data showed that re- gardless of the current state of someone's brain health over 50, exercise helped. When scientists broke down the data, they found strong evidence that aerobic exercise improved cognitive abilities (global cogni- tion, sustained alertness, ability to process information rapidly) while resistance training had a signifi cant effect on executive functions (pro- cesses responsible for goal-orient- ed behaviors, memory (storage and retrieval), and working memo- ry (short term application of found information). Tai chi also improved some cognitive abilities which might be helpful for people who can't do more challenging kinds of exercise. But the tai chi analysis was small so researchers suggest caution in interpreting results. In terms of how much and how often someone needs to exercise to reap brain benefi ts, the data suggests between 45 and 60 min- utes, moderate to vigorous intensi- ty, and any frequency. I t seems counterintu- itive but eating fewer calories doesn't always mean losing weight. Re- cently scientists out of University of Cambridge found that an ancient mechanism in our body designed to help cope during the days of fam- ine, sabotages people trying to lose weight in modern times. Our brain contains a group of neurons called AGRP located in the hypothalamus, that when we restrict our calories, automatically restricts fuel expendi- ture. If food is available, AGRP neurons prompt us to eat, but if food is scarce (extreme diet- ing) the neurons trigger our body to hold onto our fuel and keep us from burning fat. "While this mecha- nism may have evolved to help us cope with famine," explains Dr. Clémence Blouet from the Metabolic Research Laboratories at Uni- versity of Cambridge, "nowadays most peo- ple only encounter such a situation when they are deliberately dieting to lose weight. Our work helps explain why for these people, dieting has little effect on its own over a long period. Our bodies compensate for the re- duction in calories." The best advice for dieters besides exer- cise and eating healthy (low glycemic index foods) is moderate calorie reduction. A 2015 study out of University of Flor- ida dispels the long-held notion that multi-tasking causes one or both tasks to suffer. Researchers asked older adults to complete varying levels of cognitive tasks while they cycled on a station- ary bike. Surprisingly, the participants' speed increased while they multi-tasked with no negative effect on cognitive per- formance. But there's a catch. Cyclists only sped up while they performed easy cognitive tasks. They slowed down as the tasks got harder. People may experience cognitive arousal when they anticipate complet- ing a diffi cult task. As well, exercise in- creases arousal regions in the brain that control movement. Arousal also releases neurotransmitters that improve effi - ciency and speed in the brain, par- ticularly in the frontal lobe, which improves cognitive and motor tasks. "What arousal does is give you more attention to focus on a task," explained Lori Al- tmann, an associate professor involved in the study. "When the tasks were really easy, we saw the effect of that attention as peo- ple cycled very fast. As the cognitive tasks got harder, they started impinging on the amount of attention available to perform both tasks, so participants didn't cycle quite so fast." So go ahead and read a book or do a crossword while you're on the cross trainer, but keep it simple. By Laura Owens Rock Body YOUR BRAIN BOOST VARIES BY TYPE OF EXERCISE FEWER CALORIES MAY SABOTAGE YOUR DIET STATIONARY CYCLE WHILE YOU SUDOKU? MAYBE August/September 2017 13

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