How Much Cardio Do You Really Need?

Aerobic exercise, or “cardio,” might be the closest thing to a miracle drug that we have. I would humbly add that less intense exercise, such as a brisk walk 30 minutes for 5 days per week can have tremendous value, too.

A growing body of research suggests that when we commit to regular workouts that raise our heart rate and get us moving and sweating for a sustained period of time, magical things happen to our body and brain. We think more clearly, feel better overall, and protect ourselves against some of the cognitive decline that occurs with age.

“Aerobic exercise … has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress,” the authors of an article in the Harvard Medical School blog “Mind and Mood” wrote.

But how long should you be cycling, swimming, walking, or running to reap these benefits?

Overall, research suggests that the magic happens somewhere in the window of about 30-45 minutes at minimum.

A recent research paper looked at the exercise habits of hundreds of breast cancer survivors who were experiencing symptoms like “chemo brain,” which involves memory loss and trouble focusing. The researchers found that as little as 30 minutes of an aerobic exercise like walking was linked with significantly better performance on cognitive quizzes.

Another study published in May provided some additional support for that research — it found that in adults aged 60-88, walking for 30 minutes four days a week for 12 weeks appeared to strengthen connectivity in a region of the brain where weakened connections have been linked to memory loss.

Similarly, a pilot study in people with severe depression found that just 30 minutes of treadmill walking for 10 consecutive days appeared to be “sufficient to produce a clinically relevant reduction in depression.

Other research suggests it might be better to do cardio for longer. A study in the British Medical Journal found that in adults over 50, the best results for the brain appeared to come from a routine that combined aerobic exercise with resistance training (that is, muscle-building exercises like planks and push-ups) and lasted at least 45 minutes.

Researchers still aren’t sure why this type of exercise appears to provide a boost to the brain, but some studies suggest it has to do with increased blood flow, which provides our minds with fresh energy and oxygen. One recent study in older women who displayed potential symptoms of dementia also found that aerobic exercise was linked with an increase in the size of the hippocampus, a brain area involved in learning and memory. Another reason might have to do with cardio’s ability to help reduce levels of the body’s natural stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, according to a recent study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science.

Joe Northey, the lead author of the British study and an exercise scientist at the University of Canberra, said his research suggests that anyone in good health over age 50 should do 45 minutes to an hour of aerobic exercise “on as many days of the week as feasible.”

Explore this blog more here: Wellness

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I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and completed a residency in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I have been blessed to be named a “top doctor” in Seattle Magazine, US News & World Report, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine, 425 Magazine, and WA magazine. Readers of the Kirkland Advertiser have voted me the top doctor (in any field) in the region. I help individuals with cancer at Evergreen Hospital, outside Seattle.

Any information provided herein is not to serve as a substitute for the good judgment of your valued health care provider.

http://www.businessinsider.com/how-long-to-do-cardio-exercise-2017-8

Fit Body at 40 May Keep Brain Bright at 60

What You Need to Know: People who are fit in their 40s seem to retain more brain volume two decades later and also perform better on decision-making tests.

The Study:

  • Just over 1,270 people underwent exercise treadmill testing in the 1970s, when their average age was 41. In their 60s, the participants underwent MRI brain scans and mental performance tests.
  • Those at midlife who had experienced a greater increase in heart rate or diastolic blood pressure after a few minutes of low-intensity exercise on a treadmill — signs of lower fitness levels — had smaller brain volumes later in life. Higher heart rate and blood pressure during exercise are indications of lower overall fitness levels and can also damage small blood vessels in the brain, the study authors explained.
  • Similarly, those with larger increases in blood pressure levels during low-intensity exercise performed worse on a mental (“cognition”) test of decision-making ability in their 60s.

Every 7.1 mm Hg rise in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number in a reading) and additional 8.3 beats per minute in heart rate over participants’ resting levels were equated with an additional half-year of brain aging.

“In elderly individuals, improvements in fitness have been shown to prevent brain aging over the short-term. But it has not been clear whether fitness throughout adulthood has an impact on brain aging. In particular, it has not been clear how longstanding (or short-lived) an impact midlife fitness might have on late-life cognition.”

Dr. Joseph Masdeu, director of neuroimaging and the Nantz National Alzheimer Center at Houston Methodist Neurological Institute in Texas, praised the study’s design, because data was collected over decades and not subject to misreporting of personal fitness levels. He and Spartano agreed that factors other than fitness may have influenced the findings, and that those with better diets and other lifestyle habits may also be more likely to experience better brain health at older ages.

“This study cannot prove causality, because it’s possible that people with brain changes making them more likely to get Alzheimer’s are going to be less prone to exercising,” Masdeu said. “You can’t prove that exercise is what did it.”

Spartano said she could not recommend an optimal level of fitness to achieve better brain aging based on the study results. But, people should strive for exercise “that will get the heart pumping every day,” Masdeu suggested.

“It’s hard to give a quantified amount of exercise,” he acknowledged. “We are not telling people to run marathons. It’s a good idea to do some aerobic exercise that gets the heart pumping, such as half an hour of walking every day, or going up several fl

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad: Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minuteable now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: http://consumer.healthday.com/fitness-information-14/misc-fitness-health-news-312/fit-body-at-40-keeps-brain-bright-at-60-study-697117.html

Smell Test May Help Detect Alzheimer’s Dementia

The Evidence: Scientists have found that individuals who are unable to identify certain odors are more likely to experience cognitive impairment. The researchers believe that brain cells crucial to a person’s sense of smell are killed in the early stages of dementia.

Background: The ability to smell is associated with the first cranial nerve, and is often one of the first things to be affected by cognitive decline. There is growing evidence that the decreased ability to correctly identify odors is a predictor of cognitive impairment and an early clinical feature of Alzheimer’s. As the disease begins to kill brain cells, this often includes cells that are important to the sense of smell.

The Study: Matthew E. Growdon, B.A., M.D./M.P.H. candidate at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues investigated the associations between sense of smell, memory performance, biomarkers of loss of brain cell function, and amyloid deposition in 215 clinically normal elderly individuals enrolled in the Harvard Aging Brain Study at the Massachusetts General Hospital. The researchers administered the 40-item University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT) and a comprehensive battery of cognitive tests. They also measured the size of two brain structures deep in the temporal lobes — the entorhinal cortex and the hippocampus (which are important for memory) — and amyloid deposits in the brain.

Results: Growdon reports that, a smaller hippocampus and a thinner entorhinal cortex were associated with worse smell identification and worse memory. The scientists also found that, in a subgroup of study participants with elevated levels of amyloid in their brain, greater brain cell death, as indicated by a thinner entorhinal cortex, was significantly associated with worse olfactory function — after adjusting for variables including age, gender, and an estimate of cognitive reserve.

“Our research suggests that there may be a role for smell identification testing in clinically normal, older individuals who are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Growdon. “For example, it may prove useful to identify proper candidates for more expensive or invasive tests. Our findings are promising but must be interpreted with caution. These results reflect a snapshot in time; research conducted over time will give us a better idea of the utility of olfactory testing for early detection of Alzheimer’s.”

My Take: Exercise may reduce your risk of cognitive decline. For those who are able, aim for a minimum of 150 minutes per week of the equivalent of a brisk walk. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

Reference: Alzheimer’s Association. “Smell and eye tests show potential to detect Alzheimer’s early.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 July 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140713155512.htm>.

Can Exercise Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Dementia?

What You Need to Know: Exercise may help keep the brain robust among people who have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to an inspiring new study. Even moderate amounts of physical activity may help to slow the progression of one of the most dreaded diseases associated with aging.

Background: Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by a gradual and then quickening loss of memory and cognitive functioning. All of us are vulnerable. But in recent years, scientists have found that individuals with a specific variant of a gene (known as the APOE epsilon4 allele or e4 gene for short) have a substantially increased risk of developing the disease. Brain imaging shows that a memory center (hippocampus) is considerably shrunken among those with Alzheimer’s disease. But, a previous study published in 2011 showed that exercise can slow progression among those with the e4 gene. What that study did not do, however, was look at brain structure.

The Evidence: Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic (Ohio, USA) recruited almost 100 older men and women, ages 65 to 89, many of whom had a family history of Alzheimer’s disease. At the study start, about have the population was found to carry the e4 gene. None showed signs of memory loss beyond what would be expected to be normal for their age.

  • Investigators asked the volunteers how often and intensely they exercised. About half didn’t move at all. But the other half walked, jogged, or otherwise exercised moderately a few times every week.
  • The researchers then did brain scans on the participants. Eighteen months later, they repeated the scan. In this short interval, those with the e4 gene who did not exercise had significant shrinkage of their hippocampus (memory center): It shrank by about 3%. Those who had the e4 gene and regularly exercised had no such shrinkage! Finally those without the e4 gene had little change in the hippocampus. 

My Take: Why not get up and move? I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad: Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: Physical activity reduces hippocampal atrophy in elders at genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Front Aging Neurosci 2014; 6: 61.

 

 

Learning Second Language Slows Brain Aging

brain

What You Need to Know: Learning a second language can have a positive effect on the brain, even if it is taken up in adulthood, a University of Edinburgh study suggests. Researchers found that reading, verbal fluency and intelligence were improved in a study of 262 people tested either aged 11 or in their seventies.

Background: A previous study suggested that being bilingual could delay the onset of dementia by several years. The big question in this study was whether learning a new language improved cognitive functions or whether individuals with better cognitive abilities were more likely to become bilingual. Dr Thomas Bak, from the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said he believed he had found the answer.

“Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain,” offers Dr. Bak.

The Evidence: Using data from intelligence tests on 262 Edinburgh-born individuals at the age of 11, the study looked at how their cognitive abilities had changed when they were tested again in their seventies. The research was conducted between 2008 and 2010.

  • All participants said they were able to communicate in at least one language other than English.
  • Of that group, 195 learned the second language before the age of 18, and 65 learned it after that time.

The findings indicate that those who spoke two or more languages had significantly better cognitive abilities compared to what would have been expected from their baseline test. The strongest effects were seen in general intelligence and reading. The effects were present in those who learned their second language early, as well as later in life.

Dr Bak said the pattern they found was “meaningful” and the improvements in attention, focus and fluency could not be explained by original intelligence. “These findings are of considerable practical relevance. Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain.”

But he admitted that the study also raised many questions, such as whether learning more than one language could also have the same positive effect on cognitive ageing and whether actively speaking a second language is better than just knowing how to speak it.

Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, US, said: “The epidemiological study provides an important first step in understanding the impact of learning a second language and the ageing brain.

“This research paves the way for future causal studies of bilingualism and cognitive decline prevention.”

I’m Dr. Michael Hunter, and I am a big fan of japanesepod101.com (they have a number of other languages that you can study on the fly). The site has both free and for sale components.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad: Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-27634990; Annals of Neurology 2014: DOI: 10.1002/ana.24158

Do Pesticides Increase Your Risk for Alzheimer’s Dementia?

hole in brain illustration

While this blog focus on cancer, I remain committed to helping my readers to improve their quality of life. So, today we turn to the pesticide DDT and its relationship to dementia.

What You Need to Know: People who have been exposed at one time to the banned pesticide DDT are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in older age, compared to those without a history of such exposure.

The Evidence: Researchers compared blood samples from 86 AD patients with those of a similar group of healthy people, and found that the AD study participants had four times higher blood levels of the DDT byproduct DDE than healthy participants. Those with the highest blood levels of DDE faced a four times greater risk of AD.

What May be Happening: DDT may promote development of toxic beta-amyloid plaque that clogs the brain. The researchers found that among the AD patients with indications of high DDT exposure, those who also had an Alzheimer’s-prone variant of the apolipoprotein E gene were especially likely to show thinking problems.

My Take: DDT has been banned for agricultural use in the USA in 1972, it has a long half life, and still contaminates foods grown in food-exporting countries that use the pesticide. You may want to avoid produce raised in countries that still use DDT for mosquito control, or fish caught in contaminated waterways. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad: Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: JAMA Neurology (online) 27 January 2014