Use it or lose it

Stud­ies show that in­creased ac­tiv­ity trans­lates into greater brain power

Pawtucket Times - - HEALTH/FITNESS - W. Gif­ford-Jones, M.D. pro­vides a weekly health and fit­ness col­umn for The Call and The Times. On­line, docgiff.com. For com­ments, info@docgiff.com.

What would get more peo­ple walk­ing? This ac­tiv­ity shows tons of health ben­e­fits. And to­day one per­son in three over the age of 85 de­vel­ops Alzheimer’s dis­ease. This statis­tic should get ev­ery­one out of his or her chair and walk­ing be­cause a re­port from Tufts Univer­sity in Bos­ton shows that the most ac­tive peo­ple have the largest volume of gray mat­ter in parts of the brain typ­i­cally af­fected by Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

Dr. Tammy Scott, at Tufts’ Neu­ro­science and Ag­ing Lab­o­ra­tory, says, “Phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity has con­sis­tently shown to be ben­e­fi­cial to brain health.”

She adds, “there is in­creas­ing ev­i­dence that reg­u­lar ex­er­cise low­ers the risk of de­men­tia.”

Re­searchers re­port in the jour­nal Neu­rol­ogy what hap­pened to 876 peo­ple en­rolled in the North­ern Man­hat­tan study. They were asked how long and how of­ten they ex­er­cised in the pre­vi­ous two weeks.

It’s amaz­ing that 90 per­cent re­ported no ex­er­cise at all, or only light ex­er­cise such as walk­ing or yoga. The re­main­ing 10 per­cent fol­lowed mod­er­ate to high in­ten­sity ex­er­cise such as run­ning or aer­o­bics.

Seven years later par­tic­i­pants were sub­jected to mem­ory and think­ing skills along with an MRI of the brain. Then five years later they were again given think­ing and mem­ory tests.

In the group show­ing no ini­tial signs of mem­ory or think­ing prob­lems, the low ac­tiv­ity group showed a great de­cline in sim­ple task per­for­mance and how many words they could re­mem­ber from a list.

But re­searchers found that the more ac­tive group had slowed the ag­ing process by as much as 10 years!

More­over, this dis­par­ity re­mained af­ter tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion other fac­tors that could af­fect brain health, such as al­co­hol use, smok­ing, high blood pres­sure and body mass in­dex. The Jour­nal of Alzheimer’s Dis­ease

re­ports fur­ther ev­i­dence that burn­ing up calo­ries helps to pro­tect gray mat­ter in the brain. In this study 900 peo­ple at least 65 years of age had MRI eval­u­a­tion of their brains. In ad­di­tion, they an­swered ques­tions about how many calo­ries were ex­pended each week in walk­ing, jog­ging, cy­cling, gar­den­ing and danc­ing. They were also given a quiz to eval­u­ate their mem­ory.

Five years later 25 per­cent of the most ac­tive group showed sig­nif­i­cantly more gray mat­ter. More­over, this gray mat­ter was lo­cated in parts of the brain as­so­ci­ated with mem­ory and high-level think­ing. We have known for a long time that ex­er­cise is im­por­tant for bones and car­dio­vas­cu­lar health. Now we can add that it’s also vi­tal for a healthy brain. More­over, stud­ies show that you don’t have to beat the four minute mile to re­main on this planet longer. Rather than work­ing up a sweat, fre­quent walk­ing is a prime way of keep­ing healthy.

Stud­ies link­ing ex­er­cise to brain health re­mind me of Dr. Paul Dudley White, the renowned pro­fes­sor of car­di­ol­ogy at The Har­vard Med­i­cal School. He was asked to treat Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower who had suf­fered a heart at­tack. White be­lieved in health ben­e­fits of ex­er­cise and was noted for rid­ing his bi­cy­cle to work ev­ery day.

So it is not sur­pris­ing that he re­marked, “If you want to know how flabby your brain is, just feel your leg mus­cles!”

To­day, Bos­ton’s 17-mile bi­cy­cle path is named af­ter Dr. White. He also ad­vised that we should all walk more, eat less and sleep more.

So what’s the best ad­vice to pro­tect your­self from a flabby brain?

I’d sug­gest pur­chas­ing a pe­dome­ter, a small de­vice that fits on your waist and counts the num­ber of steps you walk ev­ery day. The num­ber of steps needed de­pends on your age and health.

Most au­thor­i­ties agree that 10,000 steps a day is a healthy num­ber to aim for. That means walk­ing a hefty five miles. But stud­ies show that most peo­ple take from 3,000 to 5,000 steps daily. So a pe­dome­ter is a great mo­ti­va­tor to get mov­ing and has greater psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact than count­ing miles.

Abra­ham Lin­coln was right when he said, “I have the best two doc­tors, my left leg and my right.”

We should all use them more, so we have more gray mat­ter and less flab in our brains.

W. GIFFORDJONES, M.D.

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