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Exercise Radically Improves Brain Power

Exercise can keep your brain sharp as you age. A new study has shown that a program of exercise can, over the course of a year, increase the size of your hippocampus, a part of the brain key to memory and spatial navigation.


The hippocampus often shrinks in late adulthood, leading to memory impairment.

According to the Los Angeles Times:
“To complete the study, the team recruited 120 older people who didn’t exercise regularly. Half were randomly assigned to an aerobic exercise program … The group doing aerobic exercise had increases in hippocampus volume: up 2.12 percent in the left hippocampus, and 1.97 percent in the right hippocampus.”

Regular exercise can also improve the ability of overweight children to think, plan and even do math, according to other recent research. MRIs have shown that previously inactive children who start to exercise experience increased brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area associated with complex thinking, decision making and correct social behavior.

The more they exercise, the better the result.

Eurekalert reports:
“Intelligence scores increased an average 3.8 points in those exercising 40 minutes per day after school for three months with a smaller benefit in those exercising 20 minutes daily.  Activity in the part of their brain responsible for so-called executive function also increased in children who exercised … Similar improvements were seen in math skills”.

*Los Angeles Times January 31, 2011

*Wall Street Journal February 22, 2011

*Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

*Eurekalert February 18, 2011

*Georgia Health Science News

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Optimistic Women Live Longer, Healthier

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Being an optimist really is good for your health, especially if you’re a woman, says a new research.

The research, reported in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, has found that women who think positive have a lower risk of developing heart disease or dying from any cause compared to pessimistic women.

Researchers also reported that women with a high degree of cynical hostility – harboring hostile thoughts toward others or having a general mistrust of people – were at higher risk of dying; however, their risk of developing heart disease was not altered.

“As a physician, I’d like to see people try to reduce their negativity in general,” said Hilary A. Tindle, M.D., M.P.H., lead author of the study and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.

“The majority of evidence suggests that sustained, high degrees of negativity are hazardous to health,” the expert added.

In the largest study to date to prospectively study the health effects of optimism and cynical hostility in post-menopausal women, researchers found that optimistic women, compared to pessimistic women, had a 9% lower risk of developing heart disease and a 14% lower risk of dying from any cause after more than eight years of follow-up.

Furthermore, women with a high degree of cynical hostility, compared to those with a low degree, were 16% more likely to die during eight years of follow-up.

“Prior to our work, the strongest evidence linking optimism and all-cause mortality was from a Dutch cohort, showing a more pronounced association in men,” Tindle said.

Tindle’s team studied 97,253 postmenopausal women (89,259 white, 7,994 black) ages 50 to 79 from the Women’s Health Initiative. The women were free of cancer and cardiovascular disease (CVD) at the start of the study.

Using the Life Orientation Test Revised Questionnaire to measure optimism and cynical hostility, researchers categorized scores into quartiles: high scores of 26 or more were considered optimists; scores of 24-25 were considered mid-high; scores of 22-23 were considered mid-low; and scores below 22 were considered pessimists.

Optimism was defined as answering “yes” to questions like, “In unclear times, I usually expect the best.” Pessimism was defined as answering “yes” to questions like, “If something can go wrong for me, it will.”

Source:The Times Of India

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Cold Air Blast May Cure Isomnia

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The cap pumps a liquid coolant round the front of the scalp and the forehead.
This chills the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain thought to play a role in prompting deep sleep.
Tests show insomniacs have higher levels of activity in this part of the brain at night than those who have no trouble nodding off.
But cooling the brain seems to dampen this activity and allows it to switch off properly for a good night’s sleep.
Eight volunteers wore the cap for an hour before bedtime and the first hour of sleep, after which researchers removed it.
Scans taken during the night showed wearing the cap caused a marked decline in brain metabolism, the rate at which cells in the frontal cortex process sugars and chemicals in the blood.
Six of the volunteers reported more refreshing sleep, fewer distracting thoughts at bedtime and waking up less in the night.
One in four people is affected by insomnia – most have ‘primary’ insomnia, an inability to fall asleep because of worries or stress.
Secondary insomnia, which is due to existing illness or a side-effect of prescription drugs, is less common.
Lots of money are being spent every year towards sleeping pills. Many sufferers rely on drugs such as benzodiazepines, which act as tranquillisers, to help them.

In England alone, there are ten million prescriptions for sleeping pills every year.
Yet the drugs can have side effects, such as memory and concentration problems, and make you more likely to have an accident.
In the search for drug-free alternatives, scientists at the University of Pittsburgh have spent the past few years studying the brain’s metabolism at night.

They found insomnia patients have increased activity, especially in the frontal cortex. Essentially, their brain cells continue to work at full capacity at night when they should be resting.
Professor Eric Nofzinger, who led the research, said they then searched for ways to slow the brain’s metabolic rate. ‘That’s when we came across cerebral hypothermia or brain cooling,’ he says.
This technique is already used in medicine. Researchers first discovered its benefits ten years ago, when they found babies starved of oxygen at birth had a better chance of survival if their brains were quickly cooled from the normal temperature of 37c to 32c.

This stops brain cells from committing suicide when deprived of oxygen.
Scalp cooling is also used as a way to minimise hair loss in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Professor Nofzinger and his team recruited eight patients with primary insomnia and scanned their brains to measure activity levels in the frontal cortex at night.
They then used the cooling cap to see if it made a difference.
The results, presented at a recent conference in Seattle, showed a significant drop in activity levels once the brain was chilled.
‘There was an increase in deeper, restorative sleep, feelings of relaxation and a reduction in distracting thoughts before sleep,’ says Professor Nofzinger.
But British sleep specialists say there are simpler ways to cool the body to aid sleep.
Professor Jim Horne, from Loughborough University, says that a bedside fan that blows cool air over the face can help.
As cooled blood from the cheeks flows back to the heart, it runs alongside an artery transporting warmer blood in the other direction to the brain.
‘It’s like having a hot water pipe next to the cold pipe,’ Professor Horne says.
‘Cooler blood enters the brain and leads to better sleep. A gentle breeze over the face is all that’s needed.’

Source: Mail Online. 14th. July.2009

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Breastfeeding Cuts Mums’ Heart Attack, Stroke risk

It is known that breastfeeding is important for babies’ health. But now, a new study has shown that nursing is equally vital for  mothers’ health.

University of Pittsburgh researchers said that the longer women breastfed, the lower their risk of heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, so it’s vitally important for us to know what we can do to protect ourselves. We have known for years that breastfeeding is important for babies’ health; we now know that it is important for mothers’ health as well,” said Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, M.D., M.S., assistant professor of medicine, epidemiology, and obstetrics, gynaecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburgh.

According to the study, postmenopausal women who breastfed for at least one month had lower rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, all known to cause heart disease.

Women who had breastfed their babies for more than a year were 10 percent less likely to have had a heart attack, stroke, or developed heart disease than women who had never breastfed.

Dr Schwarz and colleagues found that the benefits from breastfeeding were long-term and an average of 35 years had passed since women enrolled in the study had last breastfed an infant.

“The longer a mother nurses her baby, the better for both of them. Our study provides another good reason for workplace policies to encourage women to breastfeed their infants,” Schwarz said.

The findings are based on 139,681 postmenopausal women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative study of chronic disease, initiated in 1994.

The study is published in the May issue of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.

Sources:The Times Of India

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Preventing Colds May be Easy

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Fluff up the pillows and pull up the covers. Preventing the common cold may be as easy as getting more sleep. Researchers paid healthy  adults $800 to have cold viruses sprayed up their noses, then wait five days in a hotel to see if they got sick. Habitual eight-hour sleepers were much less likely to get sick than those who slept less than seven hours or slept fitfully.

“The longer you sleep, the better off you are, the less susceptible you are to colds,” said lead author Sheldon Cohen, who studies the effects of stress on health at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University.

Prior research has suggested that sleep boosts the immune system at the cell level. This is the first study to show small sleep disturbances increasing the risk of getting sick, said Dr. Michael Irwin, who researches immune response at the University of California, Los Angeles. “The message is to maintain regular sleep habits because those are really critical for health,” Irwin said.

The people who slept less than seven hours a night in the weeks before they were exposed to the virus were three times more likely to catch a cold than those who slept eight hours or more. To find willing cold victims, researchers placed ads and recruited 78 men and 75 women, all healthy and willing to go one-on-one against the virus. They ranged in age from 21 to 55.

First, their sleep habits were recorded for two weeks. Every evening, researchers interviewed them by phone about their sleep the night before. Subjects were asked what time they went to bed, what time they got up, how much time they spent awake during the night and if they felt rested in the morning.

Then they checked into a hotel where the virus was squirted up their noses. After five days, the virus had done its work, infecting 135 of the 153 volunteers. But only 54 people got sick. Researchers measured their runny noses by weighing their used tissues. They tested for congestion by squirting dye in the subjects’ noses to see how long it took to get to the back of their throats.

Surprisingly, feeling rested was not linked to staying well. Cohen said he’s not sure why that is, other than feeling rested is more subjective than recalling bedtime and wake-up time. The researchers took into account other factors that make people more susceptible such as stress, smoking and drinking, and lack of exercise, and they still saw a connection between sleep and resisting a cold.

Dr Daniel Buysse, a sleep researcher at the University of Pittsburgh said, “Spending too much time in bed can lead to more interrupted sleep, which in this study “seems to be even worse than short sleep” for increasing the risk of catching a cold.”

Sources:The Times Of India

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