Category: Exercise

New Insights into How Exercise Slows Age-related Cognitive Decline

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New research published in Aging Cell provides insights into how exercise may help to prevent or slow cognitive decline during aging.

For the study, investigators assessed the expression of genes in individual cells in the brains of mice. The team found that exercise has a significant impact on gene expression in microglia, the immune cells of the central nervous system that support brain function. Specifically, the group found that exercise reverts the gene expression patterns of aged microglia to patterns seen in young microglia.

Treatments that depleted microglia revealed that these cells are required for the stimulatory effects of exercise on the formation of new neurons in the brain’s hippocampus, a region involved in memory, learning, and emotion.

The scientists also found that allowing mice access to a running wheel prevented and/or reduced the presence of T cells in the hippocampus during aging. These immune cells are not typically found in the brain during youth, but they increase with age.

“We were both surprised and excited about the extent to which physical activity rejuvenates and transforms the composition of immune cells within the brain, in particular the way in which it was able to reverse the negative impacts of aging,” said co–corresponding author Jana Vukovic, PhD, of The University of Queensland, in Australia. “It highlights the importance of normalising and facilitating access to tailored exercise programs. Our findings should help different industries to design interventions for elderly individuals who are looking to maintain or improve both their physical and mental capabilities.”

Source: Wiley

With Gain, No Pain: Exercise Protects against Chronic Pain

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In 2023, researchers in Norway found that among more than 10 000 adults, those who were physically active had a higher pain tolerance than those who were sedentary; and the higher the activity level, the higher the pain tolerance.

After this finding, the researchers wanted to understand how physical activity could affect the chances of experiencing chronic pain several years later. And they wondered if this was related to how physical activity affects our ability to tolerate pain.

This prompted a new study from the researchers at UiT The Arctic University of Norway, the University Hospital of North Norway (UNN), and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, which was published in the journal PAIN.

“We found that people who were more active in their free time had a lower chance of having various types of chronic pain 7-8 years later. For example, being just a little more active, such as going from light to moderate activity, was associated with a 5% lower risk of reporting some form of chronic pain later,” says doctoral fellow Anders Årnes at UiT and UNN and study author.

He adds that for severe chronic pain in several places in the body, higher activity was associated with a 16% reduced risk.

Measured cold pain tolerance

The researchers found that the ability to tolerate pain played a role in this apparent protective effect. That explains why being active could lower the risk of having severe chronic pain, whether or not it was widespread throughout the body.

“This suggests that physical activity increases our ability to tolerate pain and may be one of the ways in which activity helps to reduce the risk of severe chronic pain,” says Årnes.

The researchers included almost 7000 people in their study, recruited from the large Tromsø survey, which has collected data on people’s health and lifestyle over decades.

After obtaining information about the participants’ exercise habits during their free time, the researchers examined how well the same people handled cold pain in a laboratory. Later, they checked whether the participants experienced pain that lasted for three months or more, including pain that was located in several parts of the body or pain that was experienced as more severe.

Among the participants, 60% reported some form of chronic pain, but only 5% had severe pain in multiple parts of the body. Few people experienced more serious pain conditions.

Pain and exercise

When it comes to exercising if you already have chronic pain, the researcher says:

“Physical activity is not dangerous in the first place, but people with chronic pain can benefit greatly from having an exercise program adapted to help them balance their effort so that it is not too much or too little. Healthcare professionals experienced in treating chronic pain conditions can often help with this. A rule of thumb is that there should be no worsening that persists over an extended period of time, but that certain reactions in the time after training can be expected.”

Source: UiT The Arctic University of Norway

Time-restricted Eating and High-intensity Exercise Might Work Together to Improve Health

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Combining time-restricted eating with high-intensity functional training may improve body composition and cardiometabolic parameters more than either alone, according to a study published May 1, 2024 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Ranya Ameur and Rami Maaloul from the University of Sfax, Tunisia, and colleagues.

Changes in diet and exercise are well-known ways to lose weight and improve cardiometabolic health. However, finding the right combination of lifestyle changes to produce sustainable results can be challenging. Prior studies indicate that time-restricted eating (which limits when, but not what, individuals eat) and high-intensity functional training (which combines intense aerobic and resistance exercise) may be beneficial and easier for individuals to commit to long term.

In a new study, researchers investigated the impact of time-restricted eating and high-intensity functional training on body composition and markers of cardiometabolic health such as cholesterol, blood glucose, and lipid levels. 64 women with obesity were assigned to one of three groups: time-restricted eating (diet only), high-intensity functional training (exercise only), or time-restricted eating plus high-intensity functional training (diet + exercise). Participants following the time-restricted eating regimen ate only between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm. Those in the functional training groups worked out three days per week with an instructor.

After 12 weeks, all three groups had significant weight loss and decreases in waist and hip circumference. Likewise, all groups showed favorable changes in lipid and glucose levels.

Some differences were seen between groups. For example, fat-free mass (a combination of lean mass and skeletal muscle mass) and blood pressure improved in the diet + exercise and exercise groups but did not change in the diet-only group.

Participants in the diet + exercise group generally experienced more profound changes in body composition and cardiometabolic parameters than either diet or exercise alone.

The researchers noted that this is a relatively small study, and it is difficult to tease out the contributions of specific exercise routines or of time-restricted eating and calorie reduction since both groups reduced their calorie intake. However, they note that combining time-restricted eating with high-intensity functional training might show promise in improving body composition and cardiometabolic health.

The authors add: “Combining time-restricted eating with High Intensity Functional Training is a promising strategy to improve body composition and cardiometabolic health.”

Provided by PLOS

Even a Little Light Exercise can Combat Depression, Study Shows

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New research has found a significant association between participating in low to moderate intensity exercise and reduced rates of depression. Researchers carried out an umbrella review of studies carried out across the world to examine the potential of physical activity as a mental health intervention.

The analysis, published in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews, found that physical activity reduced the risk of depression by 23% and anxiety by 26%. A particularly strong association was found between low and moderate physical activity, which included activities such as gardening, golf and walking, and reduced risk of depression. But this was not strongly observed for high intensity exercise.

Physical activity was also significantly associated with reduced risk of severe mental health conditions, including a reduction in psychosis/schizophrenia by 27%. The results were consistent in both men and women, and across different age groups and across the world.

Lead author Lee Smith, Professor of Public Health at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said: “Preventing mental health complications effectively has emerged as a major challenge, and an area of paramount importance in the realm of public health. These conditions can be complex and necessitate a multi-pronged approach to treatment, which may encompass pharmacological interventions, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes.

“These effects of physical activity intensity on depression highlight the need for precise exercise guidelines. Moderate exercise can improve mental health through biochemical reactions, whereas high-intensity exercise may worsen stress-related responses in some individuals.

“Acknowledging differences in people’s response to exercise is vital for effective mental health strategies, suggesting any activity recommendations should be tailored for the individual.

“The fact that even low to moderate levels of physical activity can be beneficial for mental health is particularly important, given that these levels of activity may be more achievable for people who can make smaller lifestyle changes without feeling they need to commit to a high-intensity exercise programme.”

Source: Anglia Ruskin University

Metformin’s Weight Loss Tied to “Anti-hunger” Molecule

A new study finds that the modest weight loss from taking metformin is attributable to an appetite-suppressing molecule that is abundant after exercise

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An “anti-hunger” molecule produced after vigorous exercise is responsible for the moderate weight loss caused by the diabetes medication metformin, according to a new study in mice and humans. The anti-hunger molecule, lac-phe, was discovered by Stanford Medicine researchers in 2022.

The finding, made jointly by researchers at Stanford Medicine and at Harvard Medical School and published in Nature Metabolism, further cements the critical role the molecule, called lac-phe, plays in metabolism, exercise and appetite. It may pave the way to a new class of weight loss drugs.

“Until now, the way metformin, which is prescribed to control blood sugar levels, also brings about weight loss has been unclear,” said Jonathan Long, PhD, an assistant professor of pathology. “Now we know that it is acting through the same pathway as vigorous exercise to reduce hunger. Understanding how these pathways are controlled may lead to viable strategies to lower body mass and improve health in millions of people.”

Many people with diabetes who are prescribed metformin lose around 2% to 3% of their body weight within the first year of starting the drug. Although this amount of weight loss is modest when compared with the 15% or more often seen by people taking semaglutide, the discoveries that led to those drugs also grew from observations of relatively minor, but reproducible, weight loss in people taking first-generation versions of the medications.

Post-workout appetite loss

When Long and colleagues at Baylor University discovered lac-phe in 2022, they were on the hunt for small molecules responsible for curtailing hunger after vigorous exercise. What they found was a mishmash of lactate and an amino acid called phenylalanine. They dubbed the hybrid molecule lac-phe and went on to show that it’s not only more abundant after exercise but it also causes people (as well as mice and even racehorses) to feel less hungry immediately after a hard workout.

“There is an intimate connection between lac-phe production and lactate generation,” Long said. “Once we understood this relationship, we started to think about other aspects of lactate metabolism.”

Metformin was an obvious candidate because as it stimulates the breakdown of glucose (thus reducing blood sugar levels) it can trigger the generation of lactate.

The researchers found that obese laboratory mice given metformin had increased levels of lac-phe in their blood. They ate less than their peers and lost about 2 grams of body weight during the nine-day experiment.

Long and his colleagues also analysed stored blood plasma samples from people with Type 2 diabetes before and 12 weeks after they had begun taking metformin to control their blood sugar. They saw significant increases in the levels of lac-phe in people after metformin compared with their levels before treatment. Finally, 79 participants in a large, multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis who were also taking metformin had significantly higher levels of lac-phe circulating in their blood than those who were not taking the drug.

“It was nice to confirm our hunch experimentally,” Long said. “The magnitude of effect of metformin on lac-phe production in mice was as great as or greater than what we previously observed with exercise. If you give a mouse metformin at levels comparable to what we prescribe for humans, their lac-phe levels go through the roof and stay high for many hours.”

Further research revealed that lac-phe is produced by intestinal epithelial cells in the animals; blocking the ability of mice to make lac-phe erased the appetite suppression and weight loss previously observed.

Finally, a statistical analysis of the people in the atherosclerosis study who lost weight during the several-year study and follow-up period found a meaningful association between metformin use, lac-phe production and weight loss.

“The fact that metformin and sprint exercise affect your body weight through the same pathway is both weird and interesting,” Long said. “And the involvement of the intestinal epithelial cells suggests a layer of gut-to-brain communication that deserves further exploration. Are there other signals involved?”

Long noted that, while semaglutide drugs are injected into the bloodstream, metformin is an oral drug that is already prescribed to millions of people. “These findings suggest there may be a way to optimize oral medications to affect these hunger and energy balance pathways to control body weight, cholesterol and blood pressure. I think what we’re seeing now is just the beginning of new types of weight loss drugs.”

Source: Stanford Medicine

Yoga Provides Unique Cognitive Benefits to Older Women at Risk of Alzheimer’s disease

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A new UCLA Health study found Kundalini yoga provided several benefits to cognition and memory for older women at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease including restoring neural pathways, preventing brain matter decline and reversing aging and inflammation-associated biomarkers – improvements not seen in a group who received standard memory training exercises.

The findings, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, are the latest in a series of studies led by UCLA Health researchers over the past 15 years into the comparative effects of yoga and traditional memory enhancement training on slowing cognitive decline and addressing other risk factors of dementia.

Led by UCLA Health psychiatrist Dr. Helen Lavretsky of the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, this latest study sought to determine whether Kundalini yoga could be used early on to prevent cognitive decline and trajectories of Alzheimer’s disease among postmenopausal women.

Women have about twice the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to men due to several factors including longer life expectancy, changes in oestrogen levels during menopause and genetics.

In the new study, a group of more than 60 women ages 50 and older who had self-reported memory issues and cerebrovascular risk factors were recruited from a UCLA cardiology clinic. The women were divided evenly into two groups. The first group participated in weekly Kundalini yoga sessions for 12 weeks while the other one group underwent weekly memory enhancement training during the same time period. Participants were also provided daily homework assignments.

Kundalini yoga is a method that focuses on meditation and breath work more so than physical poses. Memory enhancement training developed by the UCLA Longevity centre includes a variety of exercises, such as using stories to remember items on a list or organising items on a grocery list, to help preserve or improve long-term memory of patients.

Researchers assessed the women’s cognition, subjective memory, depression and anxiety after the first 12 weeks and again 12 weeks later to determine how stable any improvements were. Blood samples were also taken to test for gene expression of aging markers and for molecules associated with inflammation, which are contributing factors to Alzheimer’s disease. A handful of patients were also assessed with MRIs to study changes in brain matter.

Researchers found the Kundalini yoga group participants saw several improvements not experienced by the memory enhancement training group. These included significant improvement in subjective memory complaints, prevention in brain matter declines, increased connectivity in the hippocampus which manages stress-related memories, and improvement in the peripheral cytokines and gene expression of anti-inflammatory and anti-aging molecules.

“That is what yoga is good for – to reduce stress, to improve brain health, subjective memory performance and reduce inflammation and improve neuroplasticity,” Lavretsky said.

Among the memory enhancement training group, the main improvements were found to be in the participants’ long-term memory.

Neither group saw changes in anxiety, depression, stress or resilience, though Lavretsky stated this is likely because the participants were relatively healthy and were not depressed.

While the long-term effects of Kundalini yoga on preventing or delaying Alzheimer’s disease require further study, Lavretsky said the study demonstrates that using yoga and memory training in tandem could provide more comprehensive benefits to the cognition of older women.

“Ideally, people should do both because they do train different parts of the brain and have different overall health effects,” Lavretsky said. “Yoga has this anti-inflammatory, stress-reducing, anti-aging neuroplastic brain effect which would be complementary to memory training.”

Source: University of California – Los Angeles Health Sciences

Women Get the Same Exercise Benefits as Men, but with Less Effort

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A new study from the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai shows there is a gender gap between women and men when it comes to exercise. The findings, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC), show that women can exercise less often than men, yet receive greater cardiovascular gains.

“Women have historically and statistically lagged behind men in engaging in meaningful exercise,” said Martha Gulati, MD, director of Preventive Cardiology in the Department of Cardiology in the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai, the Anita Dann Friedman Chair in Women’s Cardiovascular Medicine and Research and co-lead author of the study.

“The beauty of this study is learning that women can get more out of each minute of moderate to vigorous activity than men do. It’s an incentivising notion that we hope women will take to heart.”

Investigators analysed data from 412 413 US adults utilising the National Health Interview Survey database. Participants between the time frame of 1997 to 2019 – 55% of whom were female – provided survey data on leisure-time physical activity.

Investigators examined gender-specific outcomes in relation to frequency, duration, intensity and type of physical activity.

“For all adults engaging in any regular physical activity, compared to being inactive, mortality risk was expectedly lower,” said Susan Cheng, MD, MPH, the Erika J. Glazer Chair in Women’s Cardiovascular Health and Population Science, director of the Institute for Research on Healthy Aging in the Department of Cardiology in the Smidt Heart Institute, and senior author of the study.

“Intriguingly, though, mortality risk was reduced by 24% in women and 15% in men.”

The research team then studied moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity, such as brisk walking or cycling, and found that men reached their maximal survival benefit from doing this level of exercise for about five hours per week, whereas women achieved the same degree of survival benefit from exercising just under about 2 ½ hours per week.

Similarly, when it came to muscle-strengthening activity, such as weightlifting or core body exercises, men reached their peak benefit from doing three sessions per week and women gained the same amount of benefit from about one session per week.

Cheng said that women had even greater gains if they engaged in more than 2 ½ hours per week of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity, or in two or more sessions per week of muscle-strengthening activities.

The investigators note their findings help to translate a longstanding recognition of sex-specific physiology seen in the exercise lab to a now-expanded view of sex differences in exercise-related clinical outcomes.

With all types of exercise and variables accounted for, Gulati says there’s power in recommendations based on the study’s findings.

“Men get a maximal survival benefit when performing 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week, whereas women get the same benefit from 140 minutes per week,” Gulati said.

“Nonetheless, women continue to get further benefit for up to 300 minutes a week.”

Christine M. Albert, MD, MPH, chair of the Department of Cardiology in the Smidt Heart Institute and the Lee and Harold Kapelovitz Distinguished Chair in Cardiology, says concrete, novel studies like this don’t happen often.

“I am hopeful that this pioneering research will motivate women who are not currently engaged in regular physical activity to understand that they are in a position to gain tremendous benefit for each increment of regular exercise they are able to invest in their longer-term health,” said Albert, professor of Cardiology.

Source: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

Anabolic Steroid Use can Increase Atrial Fibrillation Risk, Study Finds

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People using anabolic steroids could be increasing their underlying risk of atrial fibrillation, according to new research published in the Journal of Physiology

The team found that male sex hormones, such as testosterone, also called androgenic anabolic steroids (AAS), which are misused for muscle building particularly among in young men can increase the risk of atrial fibrillation in individuals genetically predisposed to heart diseases.

Dr Laura Sommerfeld, Postdoctoral Researcher at the UKE Hamburg, who completed her PhD at the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Birmingham focusing on this work is lead author of the study.

Dr Sommerfeld said: “Our study can significantly contribute to understanding the impact on the heart health of young men who misuse anabolic steroids to increase muscle mass. Recent reports have shown that young men in particular are being targeted on social media such as TikTok being sold testosterone products, but we have shown how the misuse of steroids carries a specific risk that many people will not be aware of.”

Professor Larissa Fabritz, Chair of Inherited Cardiac Conditions at UKE Hamburg and Honorary Chair in the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Birmingham added:

“Heart muscle diseases like ARVC affect young, athletic individuals and can lead to life-threatening heart rhythm disturbances. Atrial fibrillation is a common condition in the general population. Elevated testosterone levels can result in an earlier onset of these diseases.”

The scientists examined potential effects on a condition called arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC), which is genetically determined and primarily attributed to disruptions in the formation of cell connections critical for heart muscle stability.

The scientists initially confirmed, based on clinical patient data from UHB and elsewhere, that ARVC occurs more frequently and severely in men than in women.

In laboratory experiments, they discovered that six weeks of AAS intake, combined with impaired cell connections, could lead to reduced sodium channel function in heart tissue and a slowing of signal conduction within the atria.

Dr Andrew Holmes, co-author and Assistant Professor in the Institute of Clinical Sciences at the University of Birmingham said:

“This work implies that young male individuals with key inherited genetic changes have a greater risk of developing electrical problems in the heart in response to anabolic steroid abuse.”

The research was conducted by an interdisciplinary consortium of clinicians and researchers led by University of Birmingham and collaborators in Germany.

Source: University of Birmingham

Exercise does not Cancel out Cardiovascular Risks of Sugary Drinks

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Contrary to popular belief, the benefits of physical activity do not outweigh the risks of cardiovascular disease associated with drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, according to a new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are the largest source of added sugars in the North American diet. Their consumption is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, the world’s leading cause of death.

“The marketing strategies for these drinks often show active people drinking these beverages. It suggests that sugary drink consumption has no negative effects on health if you’re physically active. Our research aimed to assess this hypothesis,” says co-author Jean-Philippe Drouin-Chartier, professor at Université Laval’s Faculty of Pharmacy.

For the study, the scientists used two cohorts totalling around 100 000 adults, followed for about 30 years.

The data show that those who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages more than twice a week had a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, regardless of physical activity levels.

The study found that even if the recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical activity protects against cardiovascular disease, it’s not enough to counter the adverse effects of sugar-sweetened beverages.

“Physical activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease associated with sugar-sweetened beverages by half, but it does not fully eliminate it,” says Drouin-Chartier.

The frequency of consumption considered in the study – twice a week – is relatively low but still is significantly associated with cardiovascular disease risk.

With daily consumption, the risk of cardiovascular disease is even higher. For this reason, Drouin-Chartier underlines the importance of targeting the omnipresence of sugar-sweetened beverages in the food environment.

This category includes soft and carbonated drinks (with or without caffeine), lemonade, and fruit cocktails. The study did not specifically consider energy drinks, but they also tend to be sugar-sweetened.

For artificially sweetened drinks, often presented as an alternative solution to sugar-sweetened beverages, their consumption was not associated with higher risk of cardiovascular diseases.

“Replacing sugar-sweetened beverages by diet drinks is good, because it reduces the amount of sugar. But the best drink option remains water,” explains Drouin-Chartier.

“Our findings provide further support for public health recommendations and policies to limit people’s intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, as well as to encourage people to meet and maintain adequate physical activity levels,” added lead author Lorena Pacheco, a research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School.

Source: Université Laval

New Study Suggests that Pumping Iron can Help Fight the Blues

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A new study has demonstrated the impact that resistance exercise training can have in the treatment of anxiety and depressive symptoms. The findings, published in Trends in Molecular Medicine, provide evidence to support the benefits of resistance exercise training can have on anxiety and depression and offers an examination of possible underlying mechanisms.

The research was carried out by Professor Matthew P. Herring at University of Limerick and Professor Jacob D. Meyer at Iowa State University.

“We are tremendously excited to have what we expect to be a highly cited snapshot of the promising available literature that supports resistance exercise training in improving anxiety and depression.

“Notwithstanding the limitations of the limited number of studies to date, there is exciting evidence, particularly from our previous and ongoing research of the available studies, that suggests that resistance exercise training may be an accessible alternative therapy to improve anxiety and depression.

“A more exciting aspect is that there is substantial promise in investigating the unknown mechanisms that may underlie these benefits to move us closer to maximizing benefits and to optimising the prescription of resistance exercise via precision medicine approaches,” Dr Herring added.

Professor Meyer, a co-author on the study, said: “The current research provides a foundation for testing if resistance training can be a key behavioural treatment approach for depression and anxiety.

“As resistance training likely works through both shared and distinct mechanisms to achieve its positive mood effects compared to aerobic exercise, it has the potential to be used in conjunction with aerobic exercise or as a standalone therapy for these debilitating conditions.

“Our research will use the platform established by current research as a springboard to comprehensively evaluate these potential benefits of resistance exercise in clinical populations while also identifying who would be the most likely to benefit from resistance exercise.”

Source: University of Limerick