Middle-Age Heart Fitness Tied to Later Brain Health

Poorer heart health in middle age was tied to worse outcomes for the brain 20 years later, an observational study of Framingham Offspring participants has shown.
Poor cardiovascular (CV) fitness and greater diastolic blood pressure (BP) and heart rate (HR) response to exercise were associated with a smaller total cerebral brain volume (TCBV) almost 2 decades later (all P<0.05), Nicole L. Spartano, PhD, from the the Whitaker Cardiovascular Institute at Boston University, and colleagues reported online in Neurology.

The study also showed that each standard deviation in less fitness was equivalent to approximately 1 additional year of brain aging in those free of heart disease, they reported.

“Our investigation provides new evidence that lower CV fitness and elevated exercise BP and HR responses in early to midlife are associated with smaller brain volumes nearly 2 decades later, thereby linking fitness over the life course to brain health in later life,” wrote the investigators. “Promotion of midlife CV fitness may be an important step towards ensuring healthy brain aging in the population, especially in prehypertensive or hypertensive individuals.”

The study looked at men and women who were offspring (n=3,548) and spouses (n=1,576) of the original Framingham Heart Study cohort. Participants in the Framingham Offspring Study have had regular clinical examinations approximately every 4 years.
Between 1979 and 1983, at the baseline examination, Framingham Offspring participants with an average age of 40 years had an exercise treadmill test. Twenty years later (1998–2001), at the follow-up examination, participants — now an average age of 58 years old — had an abbreviated treadmill test as well as MRI brain scans.
Spartano and colleagues conducted two analyses. The primary analysis looked at 1,094 Framingham Offspring participants free from dementia and cardiovascular disease at baseline. More than half were female.

The secondary analysis included 1,583 Framingham Offspring participants who had cardiovascular disease or who were taking beta blockers after the baseline exam.
In the baseline exam, 89% of participants overall were able to achieve their target HR (85% of predicted HR maximum or VO2 max), with an estimated exercise capacity equivalent to 39 mL/kg/min.

Over the 19-year follow-up period, the prevalence of hypertension rose from 9% to 28%, and 60% of participants overall had either prehypertensive or hypertensive blood pressure, the study showed.

Previous studies have provided evidence of an association between exaggerated exercise BP and target organ damage or cardiovascular events, noted Spartano and colleagues.

“Individuals with exaggerated BP response to low levels of exercise may have vascular dysfunction that may not be discernible with examination of resting BP,” they wrote. “There is also growing evidence that ambulatory BP is more strongly associated with functional and structural brain impairments than resting BP measured in a clinical setting.”

They also pointed out that drug treatment of hypertension in older age has failed to show prevention of brain volume loss, but there is evidence that treatment of BP in midlife may prevent cognitive decline in later life.

While subtle structural brain changes may precede detectable cognitive impairment by up to a decade, the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study (CARDIA) study observed that physical fitness in early adulthood (mean age 25 years) was associated with cognition in later life (mean age 49 years).

“We are unable to account for the differences between our results and the results from the CARDIA study,” Spartano and colleagues wrote, adding that the effects of lower CV fitness may be more discernible in early adulthood.

“Our findings warrant confirmation in future investigations,” they said, noting that the cohort consisted mostly of white individuals of European descent, and that brain MRI measures were only available in later life.

“This study adds to the growing evidence that mid-life healthy lifestyle habits have an effect on brain aging decades later,” said Serge Gauthier, MD, of the McGill Centre for Studies in Aging and the Douglas Mental Health Research Institute in Montreal, who was not involved in the study.

“This does not prove that you can prevent dementia simply by doing physical exercise,” Gauthier told MedPage Today. “However, it justifies long-term randomized studies in populations with different levels of risk of cognitive decline with age, possibly combining different modalities such as cognitive training, diet, and social interaction.”

Source: medpagetoday

10 tips to stay mentally healthy

10 tips to stay mentally healthy

Enjoying mental health means having a sense of wellbeing, being able to function during everyday life and feeling confident to rise to a challenge when the opportunity arises. Just like your physical health, there are actions you can take to increase your mental health. Boost your wellbeing and stay mentally healthy by following a few simple steps.

Connect with others. Develop and maintain strong relationships with people around you who will support and enrich your life. The quality of our personal relationships has a great effect on our wellbeing. Putting time and effort into building strong relationships can bring great rewards.

Take time to enjoy. Set aside time for activities, hobbies and projects you enjoy. Let yourself be spontaneous and creative when the urge takes you. Do a crossword; take a walk in your local park; read a book; sew a quilt; draw pictures with your kids; play with your pets – whatever takes your fancy.

Participate and share interests. Join a club or group of people who share your interests. Being part of a group of people with a common interest provides a sense of belonging and is good for your mental health. Join a sports club; a band; an evening walking group; a dance class; a theatre or choir group; a book or car club.

Contribute to your community. Volunteer your time for a cause or issue that you care about. Help out a neighbour, work in a community garden or do something nice for a friend. There are many great ways to contribute that can help you feel good about yourself and your place in the world. An effort to improve the lives of others is sure to improve your life too.

Take care of yourself. Be active and eat well – these help maintain a healthy body. Physical and mental health are closely linked; it’s easier to feel good about life if your body feels good. You don’t have to go to the gym to exercise – gardening, vacuuming, dancing and bushwalking all count. Combine physical activity with a balanced diet to nourish your body and mind and keep you feeling good, inside and out.

Challenge yourself. Learn a new skill or take on a challenge to meet a goal. You could take on something different at work; commit to a fitness goal or learn to cook a new recipe. Learning improves your mental fitness, while striving to meet your own goals builds skills and confidence and gives you a sense of progress and achievement.

Deal with stress. Be aware of what triggers your stress and how you react. You may be able to avoid some of the triggers and learn to prepare for or manage others. Stress is a part of life and affects people in different ways. It only becomes a problem when it makes you feel uncomfortable or distressed. A balanced lifestyle can help you manage stress better. If you have trouble winding down, you may find that relaxation breathing, yoga or meditation can help.

Rest and refresh. Get plenty of sleep. Go to bed at a regular time each day and practice good habits to get better sleep. Sleep restores both your mind and body. However, feelings of fatigue can still set in if you feel constantly rushed and overwhelmed when you are awake. Allow yourself some unfocussed time each day to refresh; for example, let your mind wander, daydream or simply watch the clouds go by for a while. It’s OK to add ‘do nothing’ to your to-do list!

Notice the here and now. Take a moment to notice each of your senses each day. Simply ‘be’ in the moment – feel the sun and wind on your face and notice the air you are breathing. It’s easy to be caught up thinking about the past or planning for the future instead of experiencing the present. Practising mindfulness, by focusing your attention on being in the moment, is a good way to do this. Making a conscious effort to be aware of your inner and outer world is important for your mental health.

Ask for help. This can be as simple as asking a friend to babysit while you have some time out or speaking to your doctor (GP) about where to find a counsellor or community mental health service. The perfect, worry-free life does not exist. Everyone’s life journey has bumpy bits and the people around you can help. If you don’t get the help you need first off, keep asking until you do

Source: better health channel

Playing puzzle games can improve mental flexibility!

playing puzzle games can improve mental flexibility 2

Playing games are often tied with negative connotation. Many consider it as a waste of time.

However, that might not be the case anymore.

Earlier on Tuesday, a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) study released said playing puzzle games actually improve adults’ executive functions.

Conducted by by Assistant Professor Michael D. Patterson and his PhD student, Mr Adam Oei, it is found that adults who play the physics-based puzzle game regularly, for as little as an hour a day, had improved executive functions. These functions in one’s brain are important for making decisions in everyday life when having to deal with sudden changes in the environment.

playing puzzle games can improve mental flexibility 1

In the study, four different mobile games were tested: a first-person shooter (Modern Combat); arcade (Fruit Ninja); real-time strategy (StarFront Collision); and a complex puzzle (Cut the Rope). About 52 NTU undergraduates who were non-gamers were selected to play an hour a day, five days a week on their iPhone or iPod Touch devices. This exercise lasted for four weeks, or a total of 20 hours.

After the gaming exercise, the study found that players of Cut the Rope could switch between tasks 33 per cent faster, were 30 per cent faster in adapting to new situations, and 60 per cent better in blocking out distractions and focusing on the tasks at hand than before training.

The statement added the three tests to measure one’s executive functions were done a week after the undergraduates had finished playing their assigned game. This was to ensure the findings were not temporary gains due to motivation or arousal effects, it said.

playing puzzle games can improve mental flexibility

“This finding is important because previously, no video games have demonstrated this type of broad improvement to executive functions, which are important for general intelligence, dealing with new situations and managing multitasking,” said Asst Prof Patterson.

“This indicates that while some games may help to improve mental abilities, not all games give you the same effect. To improve the specific ability you are looking for, you need to play the right game,” Mr Oei added.

So yes, you can go ahead and play your games because apparently, they make you smarter.

Source: Vulcan post

Early Fitness Can Improve the Middle-Age Brain


The more physically active you are at age 25, the better your thinking tends to be when you reach middle age, according to a large-scale new study. Encouragingly, the findings also suggest that if you negligently neglected to exercise when young, you can start now and still improve the health of your brain.

Those of us past age 40 are generally familiar with those first glimmerings of forgetfulness and muddled thinking. We can’t easily recall people’s names, certain words, or where we left the car keys. “It’s what we scientists call having a C.R.S. problem,” said David R. Jacobs, a professor of public health at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and a co-author of the new study. “You can’t remember stuff.”

But these slight, midlife declines in thinking skills strike some people later or less severely than others, and scientists have not known why. Genetics almost certainly play a role, most researchers agree. Yet the contribution of lifestyle, and in particular of exercise habits, has been unclear.

So recently, Dr. Jacobs and colleagues from universities in the United States and overseas turned to a large trove of data collected over several decades for the Cardia study. The study, whose name is short for Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults, began in the mid-1980s with the recruitment of thousands of men and women then ages 18 to 30 who underwent health testing to determine their cholesterol levels, blood pressure and other measures. Many of the volunteers also completed a treadmill run to exhaustion, during which they strode at an increasingly brisk pace until they could go no farther. The average time to exhaustion among these young adults was 10 minutes, meaning that most were moderately but not tremendously fit.

Twenty-five years later, several thousand of the original volunteers, now ages 43 to 54, were asked to repeat their treadmill run. Most quit much sooner now, with their running times generally lasting seven minutes or less, although a few ran longer in middle age than they had as relative youngsters.

Then, the volunteers completed a battery of cognitive tests intended to measure their memory and executive function, which is the ability to make speedy, accurate judgments and decisions. The volunteers had to remember lists of words and distinguish colors from texts, so that when, for example, the word “yellow” flashed onto a screen in green ink, they would note the color, not the word. (The participants did not undergo similar memory tests in their 20s.)

The results, published last month in Neurology, are both notable and sobering. Those volunteers who had been the most fit as young adults, who had managed to run for more than 10 minutes before quitting, generally performed best on the cognitive tests in middle age. For every additional minute that someone had been able to run as a young adult, he or she could usually remember about one additional word from the lists and make one fewer mistake in distinguishing colors and texts.

That difference in performance, obviously, is slight, but represents about a year’s worth of difference in what most scientists would consider normal brain aging, Dr. Jacobs said. So the 50-year-old who could remember one word more than his age-matched fellows would be presumed to have the brain of a 49-year-old, a bonus that potentially could be magnified later, Dr. Jacobs added. “In other studies, every additional word that someone remembered on the memory test in middle age was associated with nearly a 20 percent decrease in the risk of developing dementia” in old age, he said.

In essence, the findings suggest that the ability to think well in middle age depends to a surprisingly large degree on your lifestyle as a young adult. “It looks like the roots of cognitive decline go back decades,” Dr. Jacobs said.

Which would be a bummer for anyone who spent his or her early adulthood in happy, heedless physical sloth, if the scientists hadn’t also found that those few of their volunteers who had improved their aerobic fitness in the intervening years now performed better on the cognitive tests than those whose fitness had remained about the same or declined. “It’s a cliché, but it really is never too late to start exercising,” Dr. Jacobs said, if you wish to sharpen your thinking skills.

This study did not examine why exercise may increase brainpower. But, Dr. Jacobs said, other studies, including some that have used the same data from the Cardia study, suggest that out-of-shape young people have poor cholesterol profiles and other markers of cardiovascular health that, over time, may contribute to the development of plaques in the blood vessels leading to the brain, eventually impeding blood flow to the brain and impairing its ability to function.

“The lesson is that people need to be moving throughout their lives,” Dr. Jacobs said.

Source: New York Times

Violent video games may be tied to aggressive thoughts

Playing violent video games may be linked to violent thoughts and behavior among kids, according to a new study.

The report, based on data from Singapore, found that kids who often play violent video games end up showing more aggression later on, and more often believe hitting is acceptable, than kids who don’t play them.

Parental monitoring of gaming didn’t seem to lessen the association.

“Just like children’s bodies can be affected by what they eat, their brains can be affected by what they repeatedly do,” Douglas A. Gentile told Reuters Health in an email. He worked on the study at Iowa State University in Ames.

Experts still debate whether there is a connection between violent video games and later aggressive behavior, and if so, how the connection works.

The three-year study included about 3,000 kids ages eight to 17. Each year, researchers asked the kids how often they played video games on weekdays and weekends, what three games were their favorites and how much violence was in those games.

They also asked the kids if they would hit someone else when provoked.

Another set of questions addressed the kids’ feelings about violence in general, whether they thought hitting was okay in some situations or if they ever daydreamed about hurting people.

Kids also reported how much their parents were involved in controlling video game time.

Children who played more violent video games tended to have more fantasies about violence and to think violence in real life was more acceptable, according to results published in JAMA Pediatrics.

The effect was statistically small, but might be a serious issue for individual parents worried about their kids, Gentile said.

The relationship seemed to be the same for boys and girls, for kids with and without a history of aggression and for kids with involved and uninvolved parents.

In studies conducted in the U.S., parental involvement has made a difference, so the culture of Singapore may have something to do with these results, Michele Ybarra, of the Center for Innovative Public Health Research in San Clemente, California, told Reuters Health.

“One reason may be that Singaporean parents don’t vary as much as Americans – they all tend to be involved, so it’s harder for our statistical processes to see what effect it has,” Gentile said.

Younger children seemed to have a larger increase in aggressive thoughts linked to video game play than older kids.

It’s tough for parents to know what to do based on this report, according to Christopher Ferguson, who researches the effects of media on behavior at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida.

“This is not a very good study,” Ferguson told Reuters Health. “This data set has been criticized before.”

The study design, which followed kids over time and relied on their own reports, is similar to a study that the U.S. Supreme Court rejected in 2011 as part of its ruling against banning the sale of violent games to minors, he said.

When researchers ask kids to report their own feelings and actions over time, certain kids may be more likely to admit to thoughts or actions, and that can skew the data, he said. He was surprised that for kids of such a young age, their parents weren’t factored into the study.

“The research we have now has been very inconsistent,” in terms of video games and aggression, Ferguson said. “There may be a connection to relatively minor acts of aggression, the equivalent of kids sticking their tongues out at each other.”

There is no evidence of a connection to bullying, fighting or school shootings, he said.

But violent video games are a divisive area of research, said Ybarra. She thinks the new study does accurately characterize the relationship between video games, thoughts and actions, even though it relies on kids’ self-reports.

“It depends on who you talk to,” Ybarra said. “Some people think that there’s a growing consensus (on video game-related violence), others think there’s growing debate.”

She believes there is a growing consensus that violent games may be tied to aggression, and that violent thoughts might be the intermediate step in the relationship.

“It seems odd to me that you would say there’s no problem with showing kids violent media,” she said.

Ybarra agreed that it’s hard to draw any real recommendations from this particular study. But, “it’s probably a good idea to do what you can to limit your kids’ exposure to violent video games,” she said.

Source: Reuters

Genetic test could help identify kids at low-IQ risk

Researchers claimed to have developed a genetic test that could spot children with impaired thyroid function at risk of developing low IQ.

After studying the genetic and IQ data of 3123 children under 7 with a common gene variant, researchers found that those with thyroid hormone levels less than the normal range had a four-fold greater risk of having an IQ less than 85 if they also had reduced thyroid hormone levels, News.com.au reported.

Lead researcher Peter Taylor, from the University of Cardiff, said that kids with satisfactory thyroid hormone levels, together with the genetic variant, have normal IQ levels, which raises the possibility that children at risk could be treated with standard thyroid hormone tablets to compensate for impaired thyroid hormone processing.

Source: Business Standard

Cutting and self-harm: Is your kid doing it?

When you think about cutting – one form of self harm – what likely comes to your mind is an emotionally unstable teenage girl who cuts her forearms with razor blades. However, self-injurious behavior can be much more subtle, and in turn, much more difficult to detect and address. That’s why it’s so important to know how and why it happens and where you can find help.

What is cutting and self harm?

Self harm is intentionally harming oneself, oftentimes with the objective of alleviating suffering. Examples of self harm include cutting the skin with objects, scratching the skin, picking wounds so they can’t heal, biting or burning oneself, and more harmful instances that include hitting one’s head or breaking bones. Of the many types of self harm, cutting is the most common. It damages the skin or other tissues, it is rarely associated with suicide attempts, and it is socially unacceptable. People who cut themselves may attempt to hide the marks or scars, and they may give false explanations for how they occurred (e.g., being scratched by a pet). Teens use many different items to cut (e.g., razor blades, scissors, pens, bottle tops, etc.), and it occurs in a variety of body locations (e.g., arms, legs, genital area, abdomen, etc.).

Who is most likely to cut?
Young people of all ethnicities, ages, and income levels intentionally harm themselves. Cutting is most common among adolescent, Caucasian females who come from intact, middle- to upper-class families. Self-injurious behavior oftentimes begins during middle school, and young people are often introduced to it through peer groups and media outlets (e.g., music, television, internet, etc.).

How common is it?
Approximately one out of every eight people engages in some form of self harm, and currently, it’s more widespread than it has been in prior decades. Among people who have mental illnesses, it is more common, affecting approximately one out of every four people.

Why do people intentionally injure themselves?
It is unclear why people cut themselves; some explanations include impulsivity, a way to distract from personal pain, feelings of control and peer pressure. If a person is cutting or engaging in any other form of self harm, a mental health professional should be consulted. Professionals will use interview techniques to identify reasons why it may be occurring and to provide interventions for effective treatment.

What are the risk factors and signs to watch for?
It is important to remember that each adolescent who cuts is different and not all start or continue for the same reason. In addition, some individuals who cut may not show any of the warning signs. If you believe or know that your child is cutting, it is important to seek professional assistance to assess the reasons why the cutting is occurring and to begin appropriate treatment. Here are some risk factors and signs that have been associated with cutting among adolescents:

Risk Factors

  • Knowledge that friends or acquaintances are cutting
  • Difficulty expressing feelings
  • Extreme emotional reactions to minor occurrences (anger or sorrow)
  • Stressful family events (divorce, death, conflict)
  • Loss of a friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, or social status
  • Negative body image
  • Lack of coping skills
  • Depression


  • Wearing long sleeves during warm weather
  • Wearing thick wristbands that are never removed
  • Unexplained marks on body
  • Secretive or elusive behavior
  • Spending lengthy periods of time alone
  • Items that could be used for cutting (knives, scissors, safety pins, razors) are missing

What should you do?

If you become aware that your child is engaging in self-injurious acts, remember that it is fairly common. Though it is often frightening for parents, the majority of teens who cut themselves do not intend to inflict serious injury or to cause death. If the injury appears to pose potential medical risks, contact emergency medical services immediately. If the injury doesn’t appear to pose immediate medical risks, remain calm and nonjudgmental, contact your child’s pediatrician to discuss the concerns, and ask for a referral to a trained mental health professional who has experience in this area.

Source : Parenting


Acetaminophen, pain killer during pregnancy affects behavior problems in kids

Pregnant women have long been assured that acetaminophen can treat their aches, pains and fevers without bringing harm to the babies they carry. Now researchers say they have found a strong link between prenatal use of the medication and cases of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in children.

The findings do not establish that prenatal exposure to acetaminophen — which is also an ingredient in Excedrin and is known in Europe and other parts of the world as paracetamol — caused the observed increase in hyperactivity disorders. But they underscore that medications are only “safe” for pregnant women until studies become sensitive enough to detect subtle problems, said Dr. Daniel Kahn, a UCLA obstetrician who was not involved in the research.

“We used to count a baby’s 10 fingers and 10 toes and assume that any drug his mother took must have been safe,” said Kahn, a specialist in fetal-maternal health. Now observational studies like this are capable of picking up on possible drug effects that are less obvious and harder to measure. As such research moves forward, he said, it’s best to follow a “less is better” rule when it comes to taking medications during pregnancy.

Source: Los Angeles Times


Solitary confinement: A man lives 29 years in a box

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Robert King still remembers well the dimensions of his cell: 6 x 9 x 12 feet. There was a steel bed and a sink that doubled as a toilet where he would also wash clothes.

King spent 29 years in solitary confinement in Louisiana. He has been free since 2001, but still has difficulty with geographical orientation.

“I get confused as to where I am, where I should be,” he said.

King joined researchers and legal experts at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago this month to talk about the mental and physical health consequences of solitary confinement.

“The widespread consensus among mental health professionals is that solitary confinement, for the overall majority of mentally ill prisoners, places them at severe risk of additional harm,” said Craig Haney, director of the program in legal studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The talk was timely. This week, New York state agreed to several changes that would limit the use of solitary confinement for disciplining some groups of inmates, including those under 18 or pregnant women. The agreement stemmed from a class-action lawsuit.

The New York State Department of Corrections provided to CNN a statement from its acting commissioner, which read in part: “These are important reforms that will make the disciplinary practices in New York’s prisons more humane, and ultimately, our state’s criminal justice system more fair and progressive, while maintaining safety and security.”


A department spokesperson said no statement was available on the general use of solitary confinement.

A brief history of solitary confinement
There are about 80,000 people being held in some sort of solitary-type confinement in the United States, Haney said.

Prisoners in solitary confinement tend to be restricted to cells of 80 square feet, not much larger than a king-size bed, Haney said. Sleeping, eating and defecating all take place inside that space. For exercise, prisoners in solitary confinement often get a short time in a cage rather than an outdoor yard — perhaps one hour per day.

Haney, who has studied prisons and punishment for more than four decades, estimates that about one-third of people in solitary confinement in this country are mentally ill, although some prison systems do not permit mentally ill inmates to be placed in solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement was used broadly in the 19th century, but the punishment was then largely abandoned because of the view that “it was doing more harm than good,” Haney said.

Correctional practice began to reincorporate solitary confinement in the late 1970s and 80s, as prisons began to get overcrowded, Haney said. He believes prison systems turned to solitary confinement as a short-term solution to controlling disruptive or violent behavior, lacking the resources to provide positive incentives or programming.

But overcrowding in prisons turned out to be permanent and mostly increased each year.
Prison systems continued to struggle over what to do to resolve conflicts or stop violence or disruption in the institutions. They put more prisoners in solitary confinement and left them there for longer periods of time, Haney said.

“I think the cost of solitary confinement is now being critically examined and rethought, and prison systems are beginning to ask themselves whether this is worth it, and whether or not it does not create more harm than good,” he said. “Courts are pushing them to consider the inhumanity of the practice, as well.”

Source: CNN news

Being shorter may lead to feelings of inferiority, study says

A new study published in Psychiatry Today found that people who had their height “virtually lowered” felt inferior and mistrustful.

British researchers studied a group of 60 adult women who used a virtual reality (VR) simulation to take two rides on the London Underground subway. On the first trip, the participant’s perceived height was unaltered, but on their second simulated trip, their perceived height was lowered by 9.84 inches.

The participants commented on their experience, and after the second ride, there was a significant increase in reports of negative feelings – such as incompetence, inferiority and feeling unlikeable. Respondents also showed an increase in feelings of paranoia toward other virtual “passengers” on the train. Most participants did not realize their height had been lowered for the second round of the simulation.

Researchers said that people mostly behave the same in a VR environment as they do in real life.

The researchers noted that the participants were women who “were prone to having mistrustful thoughts,” but they say the new study provides key insight into paranoia.

people’s excessive mistrust of others directly builds upon their own negative feelings about themselves, lead researcher Daniel Freeman, professor at the University of Oxford, told Medical News Today. “The important treatment implication for severe paranoia that we can take from this study is that if we help people to feel more self-confident, then they will be less mistrustful.”

Source: News BCC