New study connects cardiovascular exercise with improved memory

Researchers at UT Southwestern noted a 47 percent increase in blood flow to regions associated with memory.

elderly man jogging

An elderly man runs during his morning exercises at the promenade on the Bund along the Huangpu Rive the Bund in Shanghai on May 18, 2017.

Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images
  • Researchers at UT Southwestern observed a stark improvement in memory after cardiovascular exercise.
  • The year-long study included 30 seniors who all had some form of memory impairment.
  • The group of seniors that only stretched for a year did not fair as well in memory tests.

When sheltering at home began in Los Angeles, a crew of ambitious Angelenos didn't let gym closures stop their workouts. #100miles30days spread to over 400 participants around the world. It didn't matter how you split up the distance; you just had to walk or run 100 miles in April. While a lot of fitness culture hashtags rely on gimmickry, this challenge was social media at its best.

Exercise is always important, especially during a time when isolation negatively impacts mental health. Initiatives like the above keep individuals motivated while the term "community" temporarily loses meaning. A workout partner or group fitness class holds you accountable. Some people need responsibility to keep moving, even if one as simple as a hashtag.

Whether you work out in a group or by yourself, movement is necessary. Reams of research detail the importance of regular exercise. Besides physical health, staying fit leads to good mental health. A year-long study at UT Southwestern again confirms this fact.

Published in The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 30 volunteers (median age: 66) either ran or stretched for 25-30 minutes three times a week. Each participant had no recent experience with exercise. Every volunteer showed some sign of memory impairment, which was a requirement, as this was a study on memory.

The stretch group performed a series of flexibility and balance exercises designed to keep their heart rate stable while strengthening their upper and lower bodies. The cardiovascular group completed a number of heart-raising exercises. After a year of continuous exercise, researchers measured cerebral blood flow in each participant.

The aerobic group showed increased blood flow to two regions key to memory retention: the anterior cingulate cortex (responsible for attention allocation, reward anticipation, impulse control, and more) and the prefrontal cortex (decision making, personality, planning complex behavior, and more). While the stretching group experienced minimal improvement in memory tests over the course of the year, the aerobic group saw a 47 percent jump in test scores.

Lithuania's Austra Reinberga (C) runs next to New Zealand's Marcia Petley (L) and Columbia's Maria Pastora Londono (R) during the women's 100m final for athletes between 85 and 89 years old, during the World Masters Athletics Championships on August 7, 2015 in Lyon, southeastern France.

Photo: Philippe Desmazes/AFP via Getty Images

As lead author of the study, Binu Thomas, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Center for BrainHealth at UT Southwestern Medical Center, says, aerobic exercise works in your favor at any age. Noting the study was only a small group, he continues,

"Cerebral blood flow is a part of the puzzle, and we need to continue piecing it together. But we've seen enough data to know that starting a fitness program can have lifelong benefits for our brains as well as our hearts."

This study follows a wealth of data detailing the impact of exercise on cognition. A University of Vermont study suggests mental health patients consider exercise before starting prescription medication, going so far as to recommend medical centers build gyms in a new therapeutic model.

A prior review of 33 studies advocated weightlifting as an important protocol for curbing depression. Another study based in Amsterdam called exercise an ideal intervention for treating anxiety disorders and depression. Oxford and Yale researchers discovered the same.

In 2013, the RAND Corporation estimated that diseases of dementia cost America between $157 billion to $215 billion annually. Previous research specifically cites cardiovascular exercise as key for fighting dementia, including this 2010 study and this study from 2017. In 2013, epidemiologist Bryan James told NPR that aging does not have to result in memory loss.

"It's simply not pre-destined for all human beings. Lots of people live into their 90s and even 100s with no symptoms of dementia."

While Thomas speculates that a drug could target blood flow in the regions cited in his study, perhaps we should consider what's kept us healthy for hundreds of thousands of years: regular movement. Your body is in the shape you train for, so best to train it well. Your brain will thank you.

----

Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter, Facebook and Substack. His next book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."

U.S. Navy controls inventions that claim to change "fabric of reality"

Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.

U.S. Navy ships

Credit: Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
  • Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
  • While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
Keep reading Show less

China's "artificial sun" sets new record for fusion power

China has reached a new record for nuclear fusion at 120 million degrees Celsius.

Credit: STR via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.

But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.

Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.

Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.

According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.

The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.

But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.

Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.

Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.

We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.

Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).

With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.

The science of sex, love, attraction, and obsession

The symbol for love is the heart, but the brain may be more accurate.

Videos
  • How love makes us feel can only be defined on an individual basis, but what it does to the body, specifically the brain, is now less abstract thanks to science.
  • One of the problems with early-stage attraction, according to anthropologist Helen Fisher, is that it activates parts of the brain that are linked to drive, craving, obsession, and motivation, while other regions that deal with decision-making shut down.
  • Dr. Fisher, professor Ted Fischer, and psychiatrist Gail Saltz explain the different types of love, explore the neuroscience of love and attraction, and share tips for sustaining relationships that are healthy and mutually beneficial.

Sex & Relationships

There never was a male fertility crisis

A new study suggests that reports of the impending infertility of the human male are greatly exaggerated.

Quantcast