Category: Exercise

Just Ten Minutes of Running Boosts Cognitive Function

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Researchers have found that a mere ten minutes of running at moderate intensity boosts blood flow to the bilateral prefrontal cortex, improving cognitive function and mood. These findings, published in Scientific Reports, may contribute to the development of a wider range of treatment recommendations to benefit mental health.

Physical activity has many benefits as noted by a great body of evidence, such as the ability to lift mood, but in previous studies, cycling was often the form of exercise studied. However, running has always played an important role in the well-being of humans. Human running’s unique form and efficiency, which includes the ability to sustain this form of exertion (ie, by jogging as opposed to sprinting), and human evolutionary success are closely linked.

Despite this fact, researchers had not yet looked closely at the effects of running on brain regions that control mood and executive functions. “Given the extent of executive control required in coordinating balance, movement, and propulsion during running, it is logical that there would be increased neuronal activation in the prefrontal cortex and that other functions in this region would benefit from this increase in brain resources,” explained senior author Professor Hideaki Soya at the University of Tsukuba, Japan.

To test their hypothesis, the research team used the well-established Stroop Colour–Word Test and measured haemodynamic changes associated with brain activity while participants were engaged in each task. For example, in one task, incongruent information is shown, eg the word ‘red’ is written in green, and the participant must name the colour rather than read out the word. To do so, the brain must process both sets of information and inhibit the extraneous information. The Stroop interference effect was quantified by the difference in response times for this task and those for a simpler version of the task – stating the names of colour swatches.

The results show that, after ten minutes of moderate-intensity running, there was a significant reduction in Stroop interference effect time. Furthermore, bilateral prefrontal activation had significantly increased during the Stroop task and participants also reported being in a better mood. “This was supported by findings of coincident activations in the prefrontal cortical regions involved in mood regulation,” noted first author Chorphaka Damrongthai.

Given that many characteristics of the human prefrontal cortex are uniquely human, this study not only sheds light on the present benefits of running but also on the possible role that these benefits may have played in the evolutionary past of humans.

Source: EurekAlert!

Exercise Really is a Natural High

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Researchers have found that exercise increases endocannabinoids, helping reduce inflammation and could potentially help treat certain conditions such as arthritis, cancer and heart disease.

A new study, published in Gut Microbes, found that exercise intervention in people with arthritis, in addition to reducing pain, also lowered the levels of inflammatory cytokines. It also increased levels of endocannabinoids, cannabis-like substances produced by the body. Interestingly, exercise caused these changes through an unusual mechanism: altering the gut microbes.

Exercise is known to reduce chronic inflammation, which is linked to a number of diseases including cancer, arthritis and heart disease. However, little is known as to exactly how exercise reduces inflammation.

Researchers tested 78 people with arthritis. Thirty-eight of them carried out 15 minutes of muscle strengthening exercises every day for six weeks, and 40 did nothing.

At the end of the study, those in the exercise intervention group had not only reduced their pain, but they also had more gut microbes that produce anti-inflammatory substances, lower levels of cytokines and higher levels of endocannabinoids.

The increase in endocannabinoids was strongly linked to changes in the gut microbes and anti-inflammatory substances produced by gut microbes called SCFAS. At least a third of the anti-inflammatory effects of the gut microbiome was attributable to the increase in endocannabinoids.

“Our study clearly shows that exercise increases the body’s own cannabis-type substances. Which can have a positive impact on many conditions. As interest in cannabidiol oil and other supplements increases, it is important to know that simple lifestyle interventions like exercise can modulate endocannabinoids,” said Doctor Amrita Vijay, a Research Fellow in the School of Medicine and first author of the paper

Source: University of Nottingham

No Risk of Developing Knee Osteoarthritis From Exercise

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In an analysis of six global studies, investigators found no link between the amount and duration of physical activity with individuals’ risk of developing knee osteoarthritis.

The analysis, which is published in Arthritis & Rheumatology, included six global community-based studies which had a combined total of 5065 participants with and without knee osteoarthritis, who were followed for five to 12 years.
“Knowing that the amount of physical activity and time spent doing it is not associated with the development of knee osteoarthritis is important evidence for both clinicians and the public who may need to consider this when prescribing physical activity for health,” explained co–lead author Thomas Perry, BSc, PhD, at the University of Oxford.

As a next step, it will be important to understand the role of injury and specific types of activity within this association, noted co–lead author Lucy S. Gates, PhD, University of Southampton, and co–senior author Maria Sanchez-Santos, University of Oxford.

Source: Wiley

‘Uncomfortable’ Urban Spaces Result in Slower, Uncertain Walking

Stepping patterns become slower and more variable when a person is not comfortable with their environment, researchers have found.

The findings, published in PLoS One, shows that the perceived comfort of an environment, rather than it being natural or not, affects how people walk, with potential lessons for urban design.

Lead author Daria Burtan of Bristol’s School of Psychological Science said: “Measuring the changes of a person’s walking patterns through an environment allows us to understand their experienced comfort on a moment-to-moment basis.

“This is an important step toward being able to objectively quantify the impact of particular architectural designs on people’s wellbeing.”

Research has shown that spending time in green spaces such as parks helps improve attention spans, concentration and wellbeing, which can be shown by improvements in measured stepping patterns when walking in different environments.

Daria added: “As our cognitive faculties begin to decline in older age, the stepping patterns we make with our feet become slower and more variable, relative to when we are younger in the prime of our health. We found that the same thing happened when people walked toward images of urban and nature scenes they didn’t feel comfortable with – their stepping patterns became slower and more varied, relative to when they were looking at scenes they found comfortable and which they liked.

“Not only does this suggest that environments in which we feel comfortable and safe, place fewer processing demands on our brains; it demonstrates how measuring the real-time dynamics of our gait provides us with a powerful new tool for informing on the cognitive impacts of architecture and urban design.”

The researchers are now seeking to understand which psychological factors contribute to sensory discomfort.

Source: University of Bristol

Physical Activity, Less Sitting Reduces Risk of Sleep Apnoea

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Higher levels of physical activity and fewer hours sitting still have been linked with a lower risk of sleep apnoea in a new study.

Researchers studied information from three different databases. These databases had collected health information on men and women using tests and questionnaires over several years. In this study, researchers looked at cases of sleep apnoea that had been diagnosed by a doctor, the amount of physical activity a person completed each week and how much time a person sat still while watching TV or working.

Drawing on the database, the study found 8733 cases of sleep apnoea (6652 women, 2081 men). Across all three databases, it was found that higher levels of physical activity were linked to lower levels of sleep apnoea. Fewer hours of sitting while watching TV or while working was also linked with lower levels of sleep apnoea.
The study also noted that there was a strong link between low levels of activity and long hours sitting in women, as well as those who were overweight or obese.

According to its authors, this is the largest study of its kind that looks at the link between sleep apnoea and physical activity and the number of hours sitting down. The findings support the benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle, and avoiding sitting for long periods of time, to help to reduce the risk of sleep apnoea.

Source: European Lung Foundation

Lower COVID Risk in Men Physically Fit When Young

Many Swedish men who were physically fit when they did their military service were able to avoid being hospitalised when they became infected with COVID up to 50 years later. 

The results of the study by University of Gothenburg researchers are now available in the BMJ Open.

Sweden has a system of military conscription for its citizens, which it reinstated in 2017 and expanded to include women. The study drew on the Swedish Conscription Register, which contains data on over 1.5 million young Swedish men who began their military service in the years 1969–2005. Nearly all of these men then underwent both a bicycle test and a strength test. In spring 2020, some 2500 of the men included in the Conscription Register were hospitalised with COVID.

The men were divided into three groups based on their results in the fitness and strength tests, and their data were merged with three other Swedish registers: the National Inpatient Register (IPR, also known as the Hospital Discharge Register), Intensive Care Register, and Cause of Death Register. Analysis showed a clear link between fitness and strength in youth and the risk COVID hospitalisation 15–50 years after conscription.

Lead author Agnes af Geijerstam, PhD Student, University of Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska Academy said, “At the population level, we can see that both good fitness and good muscle strength in the late teens are protective factors for severe COVID. For those with good fitness at the time of conscription, the risk of dying in spring 2020 was half as high as for the least fit. For those whose strength was good back then, too, we see a similar protective effect.”

However, since the oldest men in the study had not reached age 70, COVID deaths were uncommon in the study.

“Previous studies have shown that obesity is a risk factor for severe COVID. But we see that good fitness and strength are protective factors for everyone, including men with overweight or obesity,” said Professor Lauren Lissner, senior coauthor of the study.

Moreover, the study showed a link between the men’s height to the risk of COVID-19 infection.

“The taller the men were, the greater their risk of needing advanced care when they had gotten COVID; but per centimeter this increase in risk is very small. Also, unlike fitness and strength, there is no way to influence our height” af Geijerstam says.

Many studies have already demonstrated the protective effect of good physical fitness in numerous medical conditions, including infections. It has been established that physical activity strengthens the immune system and reduces inflammation propensity. Fitness during adolescence is also likely to be associated with active and otherwise healthy lifestyles throughout adult life.

“It’s interesting to see that the high fitness and strength levels those men had so many years ago can be linked to protection against severe COVID. Today, young people are becoming ever more sedentary, and that means there’s a risk of major problems arising in the long term — including a reduced resistance to future viral pandemics. Children and adolescents must get ample scope to move around,” af Geijerstam said.

Source: University of Gothenburg

Journal information: af Geijerstam, A., et al. (2021) Fitness, strength and severity of COVID-19: a prospective register study of 1 559 187 Swedish conscripts. BMJ Open. doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2021-051316.

Intense Training Results in Temporary Mitochondrial Impairment

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Elite athletes have temporary mitochondrial impairment following intense workouts, according to new research, which suggests they may need to be mindful about overtraining. 

Mitochondria are organelles that are responsible for most of the useful energy derived from the breakdown of carbohydrates and fatty acids, which is converted to ATP by the process of oxidative phosphorylation. Mitochondrial capacity is a term used to describe the body’s ability to generate energy, and is one factor associated with increased athletic performance during endurance exercise. Previous research found that untrained recreational athletes had a decrease in mitochondrial capacity after sprinting exercises.

In this study, the researchers worked with a small group of male elite athletes, many of whom were national title holders or had international recognition for their performance in cycling and triathlon. The athletes participated in a four-week training programme in their primary sport, which consisted of two to four days of low-to-moderate–intensity endurance workouts, followed by three days of more intense training. These intense workouts included high-intensity interval training in the morning, followed by a seven-hour break and then a moderate-intensity cycling session in the afternoon. Each volunteer did between 12 and 20 hours of activity per week. The athletes, though used to heavy training, were not accustomed to this specific workout schedule.

The researchers were surprised to observe that the highly trained participants’ mitochondrial capacity was impaired after the month-long training period. “We thought that elite athletes should be more resistant against [these] kind of alterations,” said Filip Larsen, PhD, of the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences and corresponding author of the study.

However, elite athletes may be able to prevent temporary mitochondrial impairment by listening to their bodies, the researchers suggested. By paying attention to changes such as “mood disturbances, reductions in maximal heart rate [during exercise] and muscles that feel heavy and unresponsive” top athletes may be able to pull back and avoid overtraining situations that could contribute to reduced mitochondrial content and function, Larsen explained. “Exercise is good for you, but too much unaccustomed training might have mitochondrial consequences.”

The study also found that reduced mitochondrial capacity did not affect exercise performance, suggesting that oxygen delivery from the heart to the muscles plays a more important role than mitochondrial function in performance. Expression of three proteins with strong antioxidant properties were also found to be increased in the muscles after intense training.

Source: American Physiological Society

Journal information: Daniele A. Cardinale et al, Short term intensified training temporarily impairs mitochondrial respiratory capacity in elite endurance athletes, Journal of Applied Physiology (2021). DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00829.2020

Having No Audience Slows Male Athletes but Boosts Females

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Researchers have found that having no audience present made men run slower, but helped women run faster.

The new study by Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) examined the effect of an audience on performance of athletes at the 2020 Biathlon World Cup. According to the new analysis, women also performed better in complex tasks, such as shooting, when an audience was present while men did not.

According to social facilitation theory, a person’s performance is impacted if other people watch them. Merely having an audience improves the performance of simple tasks, especially those requiring stamina: and it is surprisingly hard to circumvent. One study showed that ‘virtual’ bystanders did not have the same effect as having real bystanders in firefighter’s performance in training tasks.

“The studies have been relatively clear so far, but the results are more heterogeneous when it comes to more complex coordinative tasks,” explains Amelie Heinrich from the Institute of Sports Science at MLU. Generally the assumption is that performance tends to drop when an audience is present.

Heinrich is a sports psychology expert who coaches Germany’s junior biathlon squad, and took advantage of the unique conditions created by COVID. “The pandemic offers a unique opportunity to study an audience’s influence outside of experimental conditions in the real world,” said Heinrich, who compared the running times and shooting successes of male and female biathletes from the 2018/2019 season with their performances in the 2020 season in the sprint and mass start events.

“The men’s results were as expected: they ran faster with an audience present, but performed more poorly in shooting,” noted Heinrich. Cross-country skiing mainly requires stamina while shooting is a coordinative task. 

“Interestingly, it was the other way around for women.” With spectators present they ran slower, but on average, it took them an entire second less to make their shot and, at least in the sprint, their scoring performance was five per cent higher. The researchers argue that it is not just due to fluctuation in the athletes’ performance; with 83 (sprint) and 34 (mass start) World Cup biathletes, the study has a good basis for evidence, and the same tendency was seen in both disciplines.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time that a study was able to show a different effect of the audience on men and women,” noted Professor Oliver Stoll, head of the sports psychology section at MLU. Most previous research focused on men. “Our study raises questions about the generalisability of the social facilitation theory and indicates there might be a previously unknown difference between men and women,” said Heinrich, adding that more research in sports with coordination and stamina is needed.

Thus far, the researchers can only speculate about the reasons for the possible gender-specific performance differences in response to audiences or the lack of. “It is possible that gender-specific stereotypes play a role,” said Heinrich. Men have a stereotype that they should be strong, while studies have shown that women are more sensitive to feedback. In any case, Heinrich concluded, this underscores the need to account for gender in studying psychological effects.

Source: Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

Journal information: Heinrich A. et al. Selection bias in social facilitation theory? Audience effects on elite biathletes’ performance are gender-specific. Psychology of Sports and Exercise (2021). Doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2021.101943

Lifestyle Changes Shown to Reduce Risk of Dementia

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After almost two decades, a new drug for Alzheimer’s disease has been approved in the US. However, some experts say it doesn’t really work — only treating amyloid plaques which are thought to cause the disease — and worry that it may cost a lot.

The amount of attention around this news reflects the importance of preventing dementia, with its devastating toll on families and patients. But millions of adults could lower their chances of needing such a drug by taking preventative measures.

That’s why a national panel of experts including the University of Michigan’s Deborah Levine, MD, MPH, recently published a guide for primary care providers on this topic as an official Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association.

People dread Alzheimer’s disease, she said. Helping people understand that they can prevent or slow future dementia by taking specific steps now could motivate them to increase their healthy behaviours for a positive effect.

The first step is to recognise that dementia risk is higher among people with seven major modifiable risk factors.

These are: depression, hypertension, physical inactivity, diabetes, obesity, hyperlipidaemia, poor diet, smoking, social isolation, excessive alcohol use, sleep disorders and hearing loss. Addressing each of these factors can, to varying extents, help reduce the risk of developing dementia, a fact backed by decades of research.

The second step is using medication, lifestyle change and other interventions to help patients reduce their dementia risk.

“Dementia is not inevitable,” said Dr Levine, a primary care provider at the University of Michigan Health, part of Michigan Medicine. “Evidence is growing that people can better maintain brain health and prevent dementia by following healthy behaviours and controlling vascular risk factors.”

These strategies can help preserve cognitive function and lower risk for heart attacks and strokes, said Dr Levine, who heads the Cognitive Health Services Research Program and sees patients at the Frankel Cardiovascular Center.

“We need to address the significant disparities that lead women, Black, Hispanic and less-educated Americans to have a much higher risk of dementia,” said Levine, a member of the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

She added that it’s never too late in life to start working on cognitive risk factor control.

“We have no treatments that will halt dementia – so it’s important to protect your brain health.”

Source: University of Michigan

Tailored Heart Failure Rehabilitation Improves Outcomes

An innovative early cardiac rehabilitation intervention customised for the individual improved physical function, frailty, quality of life, and depression in hospitalised heart failure patients. 

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These findings were published  in the New England Journal of Medicine and also presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 70th Annual Scientific Session.  

“Designing earlier and more personalised individual-specific approaches to heart failure rehab shows great promise for improving outcomes for this common but complex condition that is one of the leading causes of hospitalisation for older adults,” said National Institute on Aging (NIA) Director Richard J Hodes, MD. “These results mark encouraging progress on a path to better overall quality of life and physical function for the millions of older Americans who develop heart failure each year.”

The study team was led by Dalane W Kitzman, MD, professor of cardiovascular medicine and geriatrics/gerontology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and they followed 349 clinical trial participants with heart failure enrolled in “A Trial of Rehabilitation Therapy in Older Acute Heart Failure Patients” (REHAB-HF). On average, participants had five comorbidities that reduced of function — diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, lung disease or kidney disease.

In an earlier pilot study, Kitzman and colleagues found striking deficits in strength, mobility and balance, along with the expected loss of endurance in older patients with acute heart failure, who were mostly fail or pre-fail. The team decided to focus on improving patients’ physical function, weakened already by chronic heart failure and age, and which was worsened by the traditional cardiac hospital experience involving lots of bedrest and resulting in loss of functions often persisting after discharge.

To address this. The REHAB-HF team designed earlier and more customised exercise programs focusing on improving balance, strength, mobility and endurance. They also began REHAB-HF during a patient’s hospital stay when possible rather than the usual six weeks post-discharge. After discharge, participants shifted to outpatient sessions three times per week for three months.

Compared to a control group getting usual cardiac rehab care, REHAB-HF participants showed significant gains in measures of physical functioning and overall quality of life, including tests for lower extremity function and mobility, and a six-minute walk test. Self-perception of their health status and depression improved in surveys compared to pre-trial baselines. Over 80% of REHAB-HF participants reported they were still doing their exercises six months after study completion.

“These findings will inform choices of heart failure rehabilitation strategies that could lead to better physical and emotional outcomes,” said Evan Hadley, M.D., director of NIA’s Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology. “Tailored interventions like REHAB-HF that target heart failure’s related decline in physical abilities can result in real overall benefits for patients.”

The study did not show significant differences in related clinical events including rates of hospital readmission for any reason or for heart-failure related rehospitalizations. The research team plans to further explore that and other issues through future expansions of REHAB-HF into larger and longer-term trials with broader participant subgroups.

Source: National Institute on Aging

Journal information: Kitzman et al. Rehabilitation Intervention in Older Patients with Acute Heart Failure with Preserved versus Reduced Ejection Fraction. New England Journal of Medicine. 2021 May 16 doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa2026141.