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'Runner's High' May Also Strengthen Hearts

ScienceDaily (Nov. 9, 2007) — Endorphins and other morphine-like substances known as opioids, which are released during exercise, don't just make you feel good -- they may also protect you from heart attacks, according to University of Iowa researchers. It has long been known that the so-called "runner's high" is caused by natural opioids that are released during exercise. However, a UI study, which is published in the online edition of the American Journal of Physiology's Heart and Circulatory Physiology, suggests that these opioids may also be responsible for some of exercise's cardiovascular benefits.

Working with rats, UI researchers showed that blocking the receptors that bind morphine, endorphins and other opioids eliminates the cardiovascular benefits of exercise. Moreover, the UI team showed that exercise was associated with increased expression of several genes involved in opioid pathways that appear to be critical in protecting the heart.

"This is the first evidence linking the natural opioids produced during exercise to the cardio-protective effects of exercise," said Eric Dickson, M.D., UI associate professor and head of emergency medicine in the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and the study's lead investigator. "We have known for a long time that exercise is great for the heart. This study helps us better understand why."

Studies have shown that regular vigorous exercise reduces the risk of having a heart attack and improves survival rates following heart attack, even in people with cardiovascular disease. In addition, exercise also decreases the risk of atherosclerosis, stroke, osteoporosis and even depression. However, despite these proven health benefits, much less is understood about how exercise produces these benefits.

The UI study investigated the idea that the opioids produced by exercise might have a direct role in cardio-protection. The researchers compared rats that exercised with rats that did not. As expected, exercised rats sustained significantly less heart damage from a heart attack than non-exercised rats. The researchers then showed that blocking opioid receptors completely eliminated these cardio-protective effects in exercising rats, suggesting that opioids are responsible for some of the cardiac benefits of exercise.

The UI team also showed that exercise was associated with transient increases in expression of several opioid system genes in heart muscle, and changes in expression of other genes that are involved in inflammation and cell death. The researchers plan to investigate whether these altered gene expression patterns reveal specific cardio-protective pathways.

A better understanding of how exercise protects the heart may eventually allow scientists to harness these protective effects for patients with decreased mobility.

"Hopefully this study will move us closer to developing therapies that mimic the benefits of exercise," Dickson said. "It also serves as a reminder of how important it is to get out and exercise every day."

Adapted from materials provided by University of Iowa.

 

Jogging Every Day May Keep Alzheimer's Away; Exercise Seen To Help Brain Respond To Outside Stimuli, May Affect Nerve Cell Health

ScienceDaily (May 17, 2002) — Irvine, Calif., May 16, 2002 — That daily jog may do more than keep you fit-it also might prevent the deterioration of brain cells that can lead to Alzheimer's disease, according to researchers at UC Irvine's College of Medicine.

The researchers' work indicates that regular exercise controls the expression of genes in an area of the brain important for memory and maintaining healthy cells in the brain; this maintenance breaks down in cases of Alzheimer's. Their study appears in the June edition of Trends in Neurosciences.

Carl Cotman, director of the Institute for Brain Aging and Dementia, and Nicole Berchtold, a researcher at the institute, found in rats that after three weeks of wheel-running, their brains had increased expression of some genes and decreased expression of others. Many of these genes are responsible for helping the brain respond to stress, learning and a wide range of other outside influences.

"Studies have indicated the benefits of exercise in preventing Alzheimer's disease, but none have shown how-and why-exercise might help the brain prevent the cell degradation that can lead to the disease," Cotman said. "Our studies demonstrate for the first time a connection between the genes that control growth hormones and other important molecules and the genes' ability to be stimulated by exercise. We think this may show us a way to determine how much and what types of exercise may help reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and perhaps Alzheimer's disease."

Alzheimer's disease affects more than four million Americans and is a debilitating, progressive disorder, marked by increasing losses in memory and cognitive function. Its cause is unknown, and researchers are looking at a wide range of options for treating and preventing the disease. Scientists only recently have looked at exercise as a possible prevention of Alzheimer's, Cotman and Berchtold note in their Trends paper.

Using sophisticated microarray, or "gene chip," techniques, Cotman and Berchtold found that after three weeks of running on their cage wheels, rats had changed the expression, or activity, of genes in an area of the brain called the hippocampus, a structure usually associated with higher cognitive functions like memory, thinking and learning. These broad changes in gene expression could make the hippocampus more able to respond to outside influences, enabling the brain to be more adaptable to changing circumstances.

"We were surprised to find the concentration of activity in the hippocampus. We presumed that exercise principally would affect motor areas and not areas of higher function in the brain," Berchtold said. "We also found a wide variety in the types of genes that were affected, indicating that exercise is a powerful regulator of brain activity."

Other researchers' work has shown that learning, a high-level brain activity, can affect the productivity of a wide variety of genes, including those that:

* Produce a chemical called BDNF, short for brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which helps amplify nerve signals important in maintaining a healthy nervous system;

* Code for IGF-1, part of the immune system that helps in the growth of new nerve cells and aids in protection of cells from injury;

* Regulate energy metabolism in cells, and even estrogen production.

Studies also have shown that running increases the growth factor levels in rat brains and improves the rats' learning ability in mazes.

The researchers are now looking at the complex interactions of the various genes in the hippocampus that appear to be controlled by exercise, in search of more evidence of how physical activity can affect brain functions during the aging process and could play a role in preventing Alzheimer's disease.

UCI's Institute for Brain Aging and Dementia brings together scientists, nurses, clinicians, technicians and students from a variety of disciplines to study the causes, treatments and prevention of Alzheimer's and other disorders of the brain called dementias. The Institute also is an Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, which provides clinical assessments for patients suspected of having Alzheimer's, and supports community education, research and training.

Adapted from materials provided by University Of California, Irvine.

Exercise Helps Sustain Mental Activity As We Age, May Prevent Dementia-like Illnesses

ScienceDaily (Aug. 12, 2006) — Based on a review of studies on exercise and its effect on brain functioning in human and animal populations, researchers find that physical exercise may slow aging's effects and help people maintain cognitive abilities well into older age. Animals seem to benefit from exercise too and perform spatial tasks better when they are active. Furthermore, fitness training -- an increased level of exercise -- may improve some mental processes even more than moderate activity, say the authors of the review.

Findings from the review will be presented at the 114th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Varying opinions still exist on the benefits of exercise and activity, said authors Arthur F. Kramer, PhD, Kirk I. Erickson, PhD and Stanley J. Colcombe of the University of Illinois at Urbana -- Champaign, "but our review of the last 40 years of research does offer evidence that physical exercise can have

a positive influence on cognitive and brain functions in older animal and human subjects." Different methodologies were examined to comprehensively study what effects exercise can have.

The researchers first examined the epidemiological literature of diseases to determine whether exercise and physical activity can at certain points in a person's lifetime improve cognitive ability and decrease the likelihood of age-related neurological diseases, like Alzheimer's. The authors then reviewed longitudinal randomized trial studies to see if specific fitness training had an affect on cognition and brain function in older adults. Finally, animal studies were examined to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms responsible for exercise effects on the brain as well as on learning and memory.

Based on a review of the epidemiological literature, the authors found a significant relationship between physical activity and later cognitive function and decreased occurrence of dementia. And the benefits may last several decades. In a few of the studies that examined men and women over 65 years old, the findings showed that those who exercised for at least 15-30 minutes at a time three times a week were less likely to develop Alzheimer's Disease, even if they were genetically predisposed to the disease.

By examining the human intervention studies, a relationship was also found between fitness training and improved cognition, more efficient brain function and retained brain volume in older people, said Kramer. He cautions that different fitness training regimens and aspects of mental functions need further study to solidify a causal relationship. But, he added, there are some preliminary positive findings. In a four year study looking at the relationship between physical activity on cognition and brain function in 62-70 year olds, "those who continued to work and retirees who exercised showed sustained levels of cerebral blood flow and superior performance on general measures of cognition as compared to the group of inactive retirees," said Kramer.

Other studies confirmed the evidence that fitness does have positive effects on brain function in older adults. A study of older adults who were randomly assigned to either a walking group or a stretching and toning control group for six months found that those in the walking group were better able to ignore distracting information in a distractibility task than those in the control group. "Aerobically trained older adults showed increased neural activities in certain parts of the brain that involved attention and reduced activity in other parts of the brain that are sensitive to behavioral conflict," said Kramer.

Animal studies also provide support for the aging benefits of physical activity. Analyzing the effects of exercise in animal populations provides a unique window into learning about exercise-induced neurological and cognitive plasticity -- the ability of parts of the brain to function in place of other parts of the brain, said Dr. Kramer. Some of the animal studies reviewed used voluntary-wheel running experiments to show the existence of performance benefits of wheel running on hippocampus-related spatial learning tasks. Moreover, a few studies found that aged rodents that exercised in a water maze learned and retained information about a hidden platform better than age-matched controls.

Exercise also protected both young and aged animals from developing some age-related diseases as indicated by increases in certain neurochemical levels that can offset or prevent certain pathological diseases.

"From this review we have found that physical and aerobic exercise training can lower the risk for developing some undesirable age-related changes in cognitive and brain functions," said Dr. Kramer, "and also help the brain maintain its plasticity - ability to cover one function if another starts failing later in life."

More research is needed to know exactly how much and what types of exercise produce the most rapid and significant effects on thinking and the brain; how long exercise effects last following the end of training; or how much exercise is needed to get continued benefits, said Kramer.

Adapted from materials provided by American Psychological Association.

Aerobic Exercise Improves Cognitive Functioning Of Older Men And Women

ScienceDaily (Jan. 17, 2001) — DURHAM, N.C. – The team of Duke University Medical Center researchers who demonstrated in late 1999 that aerobic exercise is just as effective as medication in treating major depression in the middle-aged and elderly has now reported that the same exercise program also appears to improve the cognitive abilities of these patients.

The researchers found significant improvements in the higher mental processes of memory and the so-called executive functions, which include planning, organization and the ability to mentally juggle different intellectual tasks at the same time. These improvements were above and beyond what would be expected after the depression had lifted, the researchers said.

"What we found so fascinating was that exercise had its beneficial effect in specific areas of cognitive function that are rooted in the frontal and pre-frontal regions of the brain," said James Blumenthal, Duke psychologist and study principal investigator.

Other cognitive functions that were measured by the team -- attention, concentration and psychomotor skills -- did not appear to be affected by the exercise program. Interestingly, the researchers noted, different regions of the brain are responsible for these abilities.

The results of the Duke study, funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), were published in the January issue of the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity.

"The implications are that exercise might be able to offset some of the mental declines that we often associate with the aging process," Blumenthal said. "Further studies are warranted not only to clarify specific mental processes that are improved by exercise, but to better understand the underlying mechanisms of these improvements."

While it is unclear why exercise would improve mental functioning of these patients, Blumenthal believes that it could be influenced by the improved flow of oxygen-rich blood to specific regions of the brain.

"We know that in general, exercise improves the heart's ability to pump blood more effectively, as well as increases the blood's oxygen-carrying capacity," Blumenthal said. "It is thought that one of the reasons why the elderly – especially those with coronary artery disease or hypertension – tend to suffer some degree of cognitive decline is in part due to a reduction in blood flow to the brain.

"So it may be that just as exercise improves muscle tone and function, it may have similar effects on the brain," he said. In the original exercise and depression study, dubbed SMILE (Standard Medical Intervention and Long-term Exercise), the researchers followed 156 patients between the ages of 50 and 77 who had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD). They were randomly assigned to one of three groups: exercise, medication, or a combination of medication and exercise.

The exercise group spent 30 minutes either riding a stationary bicycle or walking or jogging three times a week. The anti-depressant used by the medication group was sertraline (trade name Zoloft), which is a member of a class of commonly used anti-depressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

To the surprise of the researchers, after 16 weeks, all three groups showed statistically significant and identical improvement in standard measurements of depression, implying that exercise was just as effective as medication in treating major depression. Not only did study participants take a standard battery of tests for depression, they took a series of standardized tests aimed at measuring the cognitive abilities of four separate domains: memory, executive functioning, attention/concentration and psychomotor speed. These tests were taken before enrolling in the trial and four months later.

After comparing the test results from the 42 members of the exercise group to the 42 members of the medication group, the researchers found that exercise seemed to have a beneficial effect on selective areas of cognitive functioning, and that the level of depression also seemed to play a role.

"The participants with milder depression at the beginning of the trial were more likely to show an improvement in the executive functioning domain, while those with moderate to severe depression showed less improvement," Blumenthal said. To better understand this phenomenon, Blumenthal and his colleagues are now enrolling participants in another NIMH-funded study, called SMILE-II. Participants must be clinically depressed, over the age of 50, and must be physically able to exercise.

The research team included, from Duke, Parinda Khatri, Michael Babyak, Steve Herman, Teri Baldewicz, David J. Madden, Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, Dr. Robert Waugh, and Dr. Ranga Krishnan. Edward Craighead, University of Colorado at Boulder, was also a member of the team.

Adapted from materials provided by Duke University Medical Center.

UT Southwestern Researchers Study Benefit Of Exercise, Medication On Depression

ScienceDaily (Feb. 5, 2004) — DALLAS – Feb. 2, 2004 – Exercise is known to help relieve stress, boost spirits and fight symptoms of depression. But can a regular exercise routine combined with targeted medications actually cure major depressive disorder?

UT Southwestern researchers, partnering with The Cooper Institute in Dallas, hope to find an answer by studying how individuals treated with certain antidepressant medications respond to supervised exercise.

The study – funded by a $2.4 million, four-year grant from the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) – focuses on individuals taking selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, (SSRIs), who also participate in a 24-week exercise program. SSRIs are the most prescribed medications for depression and include such drugs as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil and Celexa.

"The majority of people who start on an SSRI feel better after they begin treatment, but they still don't feel completely well or as good as they did before they became depressed," said Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, associate professor of psychiatry and head of the depression and anxiety disorders program at UT Southwestern. "While their symptoms are reduced, they seldom get to full remission."

Preliminary results indicate positive responses from patients, said Dr. Trivedi, who received the NIMH grant after being awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression earlier in 2003, which allowed him to gather pilot data for the study.

"Exercise may have a synergistic or additive effect combined with anti-depressant medication, which could provide significant benefits over singular treatment methods," he said. "There also is some suggestion that exercise can change neurotransmitter levels, like those of serotonin, in the brain. These changes in neurochemicals have been reported to help improve symptoms of depression. Plus, we already know that exercise can have a positive effect on a person's overall health and well-being.

"The goal of this study is to determine if exercise can help augment the SSRI treatment to the point of reducing all the symptoms of depression."

UT Southwestern currently is enrolling study participants between the ages of 18 and 65 who have been taking an SSRI for eight to 12 weeks and are continuing to experience symptoms of depression. Interested persons should call 214-648-0173. Eligible participants will begin an exercise program at The Cooper Institute, located at 12230 Preston Road, as well as being trained on how to exercise at home.

Adapted from materials provided by University Of Texas Southwestern Medical Center At Dallas.

Newly-identified Exercise Gene Could Help With Depression

ScienceDaily (Dec. 3, 2007) — Boosting an exercise-related gene in the brain works as a powerful anti-depressant in mice--a finding that could lead to a new anti-depressant drug target, according to a Yale School of Medicine report in Nature Medicine.

"The VGF exercise-related gene and target for drug development could be even better than chemical antidepressants because it is already present in the brain," said Ronald Duman, professor of psychiatry and senior author of the study.

Depression affects 16 percent of the population in the United States, at a related cost of $83 billion each year. Currently available anti-depressants help 65 percent of patients and require weeks to months before the patients experience relief.

Duman said it is known that exercise improves brain function and mental health, and provides protective benefits in the event of a brain injury or disease, but how this all happens in the brain is not well understood. He said the fact that existing medications take so long to work indicates that some neuronal adaptation or plasticity is needed.

He and his colleagues designed a custom microarray that was optimized to show small changes in gene expression, particularly in the brain's hippocampus, a limbic structure highly sensitive to stress hormones, depression, and anti-depressants.

They then compared the brain activity of sedentary mice to those who were given running wheels. The researchers observed that the mice with wheels within one week were running more than six miles each night. Four independent array analyses of the mice turned up 33 hippocampal exercise-regulated genes--27 of which had never been identified before.

The action of one gene in particular--VGF--was greatly enhanced by exercise. Moreover, administering VGF functioned like a powerful anti-depressant, while blocking VGF inhibited the effects of exercise and induced depressive-like behavior in the mice.

"Identification of VGF provides a mechanism by which exercise produces antidepressant effects," Duman said. "This information further supports the benefits of exercise and provides a novel target for the development of new antidepressants with a completely different mechanism of action than existing medications."

Journal reference: Nature Medicine, Online publication December 2, 2007 (DOI 10.1038/nm1669)

Co-authors include Joshua Hunsberger, Samuel Newton, Alicia Bennett, Catharine Duman, and David Russell, of Yale, and Stephen Salton of Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Adapted from materials provided by Yale University.

Exercise Helps Reduce Pain In Old Age

ScienceDaily (Sep. 19, 2005) — People who exercise regularly experience 25% less muscle and joint pain in their old age than people who are less active. Research published in Arthritis Research & Therapy reveals that people who regularly participate in brisk aerobic exercise, such as running, experience less pain than non-runners even though they are more likely to suffer from pain from injuries.

Bonnie Bruce and colleagues from Stanford University, USA, compared the level of pain in a group of runners and a group of community-based individuals who acted as controls. Participants were followed for 14 years, and were on average in their mid-sixties when the study started. Each year, they completed a questionnaire about their health status, exercise habits and history of injuries. In total, the study included 866 subjects: 492 Runners' Association members and 374 controls.

Bruce et al.'s results show that the greater majority of physically active participants did, on average, between 355 and 2,119 minutes of exercise per week over the course of the study, while controls exercised significantly less. After adjusting for confounding factors such as gender, age, weight and health status the results show that pain increased in both groups over time. But members of the Runners' Association experienced 25% less musculoskeletal pain than controls. This reduction persisted throughout the study period, until the subjects reached an age of 62 to 76 years.

"Exercise was associated with a substantial and significant reduction in pain even […] despite the fact that fractures, a significant predictor of pain, were slightly more common among runners", conclude the authors.

More research is needed to investigate the mechanisms that might underlie the effect of exercise on musculoskeletal pain in old age.

Adapted from materials provided by BioMed Central.

 

Couch Potatoes Who Start Exercising After 40 Can Still Stave Off Heart Disease

ScienceDaily (Jul. 19, 2006) — Couch potatoes who start exercising in later life can still significantly cut their chances of developing coronary artery disease, suggests a small study published ahead of print in Heart.

The authors base their findings on 312 adults between the ages of 40 and 68 who had confirmed coronary artery disease and 479 volunteers matched for age and sex.

Each participant was interviewed about their level of physical activity in early adulthood, classified as the period between 20 and 39, and in late adulthood, defined as the period after the age of 40.

Unsurprisingly, known risk factors for coronary heart disease, including smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure tended to be more common among those with confirmed disease.

Around half of those with heart disease and seven out of 10 of the healthy volunteers said that they had been moderately or very physically active in younger and older adulthood.

But around one in 10 of those with confirmed disease and around one in 20 of the healthy volunteers confessed to having enjoyed a lifetime of physical inactivity.

Those who had been active all their lives had the lowest risks. They were around 60 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with coronary heart disease.

But those who became very physically active after the age of 40 were around 55 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with heart disease than those who had embraced inactivity all their lives.

The authors conclude that while optimal health is likely to be enjoyed by those who exercise all their lives, it is not too late to start. Regular exercise, even if started in older life, still confers many benefits and substantially cuts the risk of heart disease.

But an accompanying editorial points out that only about a third of men and a fifth of women in England manage the recommended 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week.

And these proportions fall to just 17 per cent and 12 per cent, respectively among those aged 65 and above, it says.

Adapted from materials provided by BMJ Specialty Journals.

 

Use It Or Lose It: Physical Activity In Middle Age

ScienceDaily (Nov. 29, 2007) — Researchers from the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, UK, have concluded a study that proves a direct link between levels of physical activity in middle age and physical ability later in life -- regardless of body weight.

Dr. Iain Lang headed the research team from the Epidemiology and Public Health Group at the Peninsula Medical School. The team found that middle-aged people who maintained a reasonable level of physical activity were less likely to become unable to walk distances, climb stairs, maintain their sense of balance, stand from a seated position with their arms folded, or sustain their hand grip as they get older.

Research showed that, among men and women aged 50 to 69 years and across all weight ranges, the rate of decreased physical ability later in life was twice as high among those who were less physically active.

The research team studied 8,702 participants in the US Health and Retirement Study and 1,507 people taking part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Each subject was followed for up to six years.

Findings showed that being overweight or obese was associated with an overall increased risk of physical impairment but that, regardless of weight, people who engaged in heavy housework or gardening, who played sport or who had a physically active job, were more likely to remain mobile later in life.

Physical activity of about 30 minutes three or more times a week resulted in fewer than 13 per cent of people developing some sort of physical disability, while this rate increased to 24 per cent where subjects were less active.

Dr. Lang commented: "There are three truly interesting results from this research. The first is that our findings were similar from the US and the UK, which suggests that they are universal. The second is that exercise in middle age does not just benefit people in terms of weight loss -- it also helps them to remain physically healthy and active later in life. The third is that, in terms of results from activity, weight does not seem to be an issue."

Adapted from materials provided by The Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry

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