Research shows the lifestyle choices you make in middle age have a direct impact on how you’ll spend your Golden Years. If you’re fit at 50, you’re much more likely to be healthy into your 70s and 80s.
Exercise reduces inflammation, which is a driving force behind most chronic conditions; exercise also improves your strength and protects your brain as you age.
The older you get, the harder it is to get fit, especially after 40, and this is particularly true for women. Once you enter middle age, biological processes like hormone changes, decreased muscle mass, and AMPK decline make it extra challenging to become fit.
Research continues to prove that more exercise is not necessarily better; in a new Danish study, participants exercising for 30 minutes daily lost more weight than those exercising an hour a day.
The value of mental-training games may be speculative, as Dan Hurley writes in his article on the quest to make ourselves smarter, but there is another, easy-to-achieve, scientifically proven way to make yourself smarter. Go for a walk or a swim. For more than a decade, neuroscientists and physiologists have been gathering evidence of the beneficial relationship between exercise and brainpower. But the newest findings make it clear that this isn’t just a relationship; it is the relationship. Using sophisticated technologies to examine the workings of individual neurons — and the makeup of brain matter itself — scientists in just the past few months have discovered that exercise appears to build a brain that resists physical shrinkage and enhance cognitive flexibility. Exercise, the latest neuroscience suggests, does more to bolster thinking than thinking does.
The most persuasive evidence comes from several new studies of lab animals living in busy, exciting cages. It has long been known that so-called “enriched” environments — homes filled with toys and engaging, novel tasks — lead to improvements in the brainpower of lab animals. In most instances, such environmental enrichment also includes a running wheel, because mice and rats generally enjoy running. Until recently, there was little research done to tease out the particular effects of running versus those of playing with new toys or engaging the mind in other ways that don’t increase the heart rate.
So, last year a team of researchers led by Justin S. Rhodes, a psychology professor at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, gathered four groups of mice and set them into four distinct living arrangements. One group lived in a world of sensual and gustatory plenty, dining on nuts, fruits and cheeses, their food occasionally dusted with cinnamon, all of it washed down with variously flavored waters. Their “beds” were colorful plastic igloos occupying one corner of the cage. Neon-hued balls, plastic tunnels, nibble-able blocks, mirrors and seesaws filled other parts of the cage. Group 2 had access to all of these pleasures, plus they had small disc-shaped running wheels in their cages. A third group’s cages held no embellishments, and they received standard, dull kibble. And the fourth group’s homes contained the running wheels but no other toys or treats.
All the animals completed a series of cognitive tests at the start of the study and were injected with a substance that allows scientists to track changes in their brain structures. Then they ran, played or, if their environment was unenriched, lolled about in their cages for several months.
Afterward, Rhodes’s team put the mice through the same cognitive tests and examined brain tissues. It turned out that the toys and tastes, no matter how stimulating, had not improved the animals’ brains.
“Only one thing had mattered,” Rhodes says, “and that’s whether they had a running wheel.” Animals that exercised, whether or not they had any other enrichments in their cages, had healthier brains and performed significantly better on cognitive tests than the other mice. Animals that didn’t run, no matter how enriched their world was otherwise, did not improve their brainpower in the complex, lasting ways that Rhodes’s team was studying. “They loved the toys,” Rhodes says, and the mice rarely ventured into the empty, quieter portions of their cages. But unless they also exercised, they did not become smarter.
Why would exercise build brainpower in ways that thinking might not? The brain, like all muscles and organs, is a tissue, and its function declines with underuse and age. Beginning in our late 20s, most of us will lose about 1 percent annually of the volume of the hippocampus, a key portion of the brain related to memory and certain types of learning.
Exercise though seems to slow or reverse the brain’s physical decay, much as it does with muscles. Although scientists thought until recently that humans were born with a certain number of brain cells and would never generate more, they now know better. In the 1990s, using a technique that marks newborn cells, researchers determined during autopsies that adult human brains contained quite a few new neurons. Fresh cells were especially prevalent in the hippocampus, indicating that neurogenesis — or the creation of new brain cells — was primarily occurring there. Even more heartening, scientists found that exercise jump-starts neurogenesis. Mice and rats that ran for a few weeks generally had about twice as many new neurons in their hippocampi as sedentary animals. Their brains, like other muscles, were bulking up.
Matthew Zucca, a sophomore at La Jolla High School, won the White Dragon Martial Arts Dragon Cup Tournament and was crowned Grand Champion 2012.
The event was held last month at the Jenny Craig Pavilion where 1049 students competed in multiple events. Zucca medaled in eight of the nine events he competed in, bringing home four gold medals, two silver medals and two bronze medals.
Zucca has been training at White Dragon Martial Arts in Clairemont since March 2005. He is currently a purple sash. His Sifu is Ben Stanley. His teacher is Leslie Edwards.
Below are the events in which Zucca earned medals:
Gold: grappling, push hands, two-man set, open form; Silver: weapons form, sparring; Bronze: hand form, self defense techniques.
Read the original post in the La Jolla Light: here.