Exercise, eating right benefits brain
Call me a creature of habit. A pack rat. Better yet, a dinosaur, a fossil of a fellow from an age long ago.
Because I began writing this column before the Internet and my biggest fear back then was a dearth of ideas for columns, I still keep the paper copies of the periodicals to which I subscribe even though they are all accessible online. And the pack rat in me almost always creates a reason to keep just about every article I print from my incessant Internet searches.
These go in here comes the dinosaur part manila folders that are titled, alphabetized, and placed in "The Fitness Master" file cabinet. It is from the folder "Exercise, Benefits" and the lead article in the May of 2010 issue of Consumer Reports on Health that I can report that "30 minutes of exercise most days of the week can help you: lose weight, sleep better, ease hip and joint pain, have better sex, boost mood, strengthen bones, prevent falls, ward off cancer, improve cholesterol levels, and lower blood pressure."
This list, I am pleased to report, needs an update.
This spring, a number of studies were published that clearly indicate that exercise does more for your mental state than improve your mood. Exercise helps above the shoulders in another important way.
It actually improves brain function and keeps it healthy.
Research done at the University of Granada in Spain found that young males possessing a high degree of physical fitness also possess a higher degree of "brain fitness" when compared to young males who do not. In essence, in the same way exercise improves muscle strength, bone strength, and cardiovascular function, it also improves many of the systems that affect brain performance.
For instance, the physically fit males demonstrated more rapid reaction times than those who were not. They also fared better in tests measuring attention span and cognitive performance over a long time period.
Results like these would not be as noteworthy in a study of males or females middle aged or older, but the ages of the males used in this study ranged from 17 to 29, well before the time of any anticipated aging that leads to mental decline.
Because of that, what I call ambitious exercise should be viewed as not only delaying the inevitable human decline but also improving one's prime.
Yet another study suggests exercise can do something else to help the brain: minimize the damage done by consuming excessive alcohol.
Excessive alcohol consumption has been shown to damage the brain's white matter, bundles of nerve cells that allow and control communication between different parts of the brain. That's why drinkers joke about killing brain cells during a big night out on the town.
What University of Colorado at Boulder researchers found in a study of 60 moderate to heavy drinkers, however, was that the amount of damage done to the white matter seemed to be reduced in the drinkers who exercised the most.
Kelly Fitzgerald of Medical News Today spoke to Angela Bryan, a co-author of the study, about this and she said: "Beyond just giving people a different outlet for cravings or urges for alcohol, exercise might also help to repair the damage that may have been done to the brain. It might even be a more promising treatment approach for alcohol problems because it is both a behavioral treatment and a treatment that has the potential to make the brain more healthy."
Other recent research has linked brain health in older adults to a healthy diet.
Information gathered on over 1,200 people aged 70 to 89 by the Mayo Clinic and published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease linked excessive carbohydrate intake to a greater risk of cognitive impairment.
Those who reported a high consumption of carbs were nearly twice as likely to have some sort of cognitive impairment than those who reported a low consumption. Those who ate the most carbohydrates when compared to proteins and fats were nearly four times as likely to have diminished brain capacity than those who consumed higher amounts of proteins and fats.
One type of carbohydrate, sugar, was specifically isolated, and an excess of it was found to adversely affect brain function.
Tammy Scott, Ph.D., a scientist at Tufts' University, hypothesizes that the excess carbs, particularly sugar, could increase oxidative stress, which accelerates aging, and impair transport of glucose to the brain.
This, according to Rosebud Roberts, M.B., Ch.B., and lead author of the Mayo Clinic study, may actually produce a problem in the brain "similar to what we see in type 2 diabetes."
While it's understood that if you're reading this column you're doing all you can not to become one of the 5.2 million Americans the Alzheimer's Association estimates has dementia or one of the 26 million the American Diabetes Association claims battles type 2 diabetes, the high number of both diseases will still affect you by increasing your cost of health insurance.
A Rand report in 2013 suggests that all forms of dementia cost Americans as much as $215 billion a year even more than cancer and heart disease and the ADA estimates direct medical costs related to diabetes to be $176 billion.