Sleeping With Any Light Raises Risk of Obesity  Diabetes and More

Even dim light can disrupt sleep, raising the risk of serious health issues in older adults, a new study found. Dogs and cats who share their human’s bed tend to have a “higher trust level and a tighter bond with the humans that are in their lives. It’s a big display of trust on their part,” Varble said.

Sleep myths that may be keeping you from a good night’s rest. “Exposure to any amount of light during the sleep period was correlated with the higher prevalence of diabetes, obesity and hypertension in both older men and women,” senior author Phyllis Zee, chief of sleep medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, told CNN.

“People should do their best to avoid or minimize the amount of light they are exposed to during sleep,” she added. A study published earlier this year by Zee and her team examined the role of light in sleep for healthy adults in their 20s. Sleeping for only one night with a dim light, such as a TV set with the sound off, raised the blood sugar and heart rate of the young people during the sleep lab experiment.

An elevated heart rate at night has been shown in prior studies to be a risk factor for future heart disease and early death, while higher blood sugar levels are a sign of insulin resistance, which can ultimately lead to type 2 diabetes. The dim light entered the eyelids and disrupted sleep in the young adults despite the fact that participants slept with their eyes closed, Zee said. Yet even that tiny amount of light created a deficit of slow wave and rapid eye movement sleep, the stages of slumber in which most cellular renewal occurs, she said.

Objective Measurements

The new study, published Wednesday in the journal Sleep, focused on seniors who “already are at higher risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” said coauthor Dr. Minjee Kim, an assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in a statement. “We wanted to see if there was a difference in frequencies of these diseases related to light exposure at night,” Kim said. Instead of pulling people into a sleep lab, the new study used a real-world setting.

Researchers gave 552 men and women between the ages of 63 and 84 an actigraph, a small device worn like a wristwatch that measures sleep cycles, average movement and light exposure. We’re actually measuring the amount of light the person is exposed to with a sensor on their body and comparing that to their sleep and wake activity over a 24-hour period,” Zee said. “What I think is different and notable in our study is that we have really objective data with this method.”

Fewer than half of the adults in the study got five hours of darkness at night. Zee and her team said they were surprised to find that fewer than half of the men and women in the study consistently slept in darkness for at least five hours each day. “More than 53% or so had some light during the night in the room,” she said. “In a secondary analysis, we found those who had higher amounts of light at night were also the most likely to have diabetes, obesity or hypertension.” In addition, Zee said, people who slept with higher levels of light were more likely to go to bed later and get up later, and “we know late sleepers tend to also have a higher risk for cardiovascular and metabolic disorders.”

What to do

Strategies for reducing light levels at night include positioning your bed away from windows or using light-blocking window shades. Don’t charge laptops and cellphones in your bedroom where melatonin-altering blue light can disrupt your sleep. If low levels of light persist, try a sleep mask to shelter your eyes. Using melatonin for sleep is on the rise, study says, despite potential health harms. If you have to get up, don’t turn on lights if you don’t have to, Zee advised. If you do, keep them as dim as possible and illuminated only for brief periods of time.

Older adults often have to get up at night to visit the bathroom, due to health issues or side effects from medications, Zee said, so advising that age group to turn out all lights might put them at risk of falling. In that case, consider using nightlights positioned very low to the ground, and choose lights with an amber or red color. That spectrum of light has a longer wavelength, and is less intrusive and disruptive to our circadian rhythm, or body clock, than shorter wavelengths such as blue light.

Source: Sleeping with any light raises risk of obesity, diabetes and more, study finds – CNN

Heart rate increases in light room, and body can’t rest properly 

We showed your heart rate increases when you sleep in a moderately lit room,” said Daniela Grimaldi, MD, PhD, co-first author of the study and a research assistant professor of Neurology in the Division of Sleep Medicine. “Even though you are asleep, your autonomic nervous system is activated. That’s bad. Usually, your heart rate together with other cardiovascular parameters are lower at night and higher during the day.”

There are sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems that regulate our physiology during the day and night. Sympathetic takes charge during the day and parasympathetic is supposed to control physiology at night, when it conveys restoration to the entire body.

How nighttime light during sleep can lead to diabetes and obesity

Investigators found insulin resistance occurred the morning after people slept in a light room. Insulin resistance is when cells in your muscles, fat and liver don’t respond well to insulin and can’t use glucose from your blood for energy. To make up for it, your pancreas makes more insulin. Over time, your blood sugar goes up. An earlier study published in JAMA Internal Medicine looked at a large population of healthy people who had exposure to light during sleep. They were more overweight and obese, Zee said.

“Now we are showing a mechanism that might be fundamental to explain why this happens. We show it’s affecting your ability to regulate glucose,” Zee said. The participants in the study weren’t aware of the biological changes in their bodies at night. “But the brain senses it,” Grimaldi said. “It acts like the brain of somebody whose sleep is light and fragmented. The sleep physiology is not resting the way it’s supposed to.”

Exposure to artificial light at night during sleep is common

Exposure to artificial light at night during sleep is common, either from indoor light emitting devices or from sources outside the home, particularly in large urban areas. A significant proportion of individuals (up to 40 percent) sleep with a bedside lamp on or with a light on in the bedroom, or keep a television on.

Light and its relationship to health is double edged.

“In addition to sleep, nutrition and exercise, light exposure during the daytime is an important factor for health, but during the night we show that even modest intensity of light can impair measures of heart and endocrine health,” Zee said. The study tested the effect of sleeping with 100 lux (moderate light) compared to 3 lux (dim light) in participants over a single night. The investigators discovered that moderate light exposure caused the body to go into a higher alert state.

In this state, the heart rate increases as well as the force with which the heart contracts and the rate of how fast the blood is conducted to your blood vessels for oxygenated blood flow.

Zee’s top tips for reducing light during sleep

  1. Don’t turn lights on. If you need to have a light on (which older adults may want for safety), make it a dim light that is closer to the floor.
  2. Color is important. Amber or a red or orange light is less stimulating for the brain. Don’t use white or blue light and keep it far away from the sleeping person.
  3. Blackout shades or eye masks are good if you can’t control the outdoor light. Move your bed so the outdoor light isn’t shining on your face.

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6 clever tips for a great night’s sleep NewsNet5, Ohio

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Finding Happiness Daily Can Be a Challenge, But This Activity Will Help

Finding happiness daily can be a challenge, but this activity will help “We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.”

Remember that episode of The Simpsons where Marge blew a mind gasket and froze up on the bridge, windows up, refusing to come out of the car? She was so overwhelmed by responsibility and the lack of time to herself that she just lost it. It’s scary to stand on the edge of such an emotional cliff.

 

Carving out some aloneness – the space to breathe and meditate – is imperative. We need time to cultivate ideas, feel through concepts and simply be as a human being instead of constantly engaging with the world.

In today’s frantic age, I think it should be one of our greatest commitments. Peaceful people who know themselves and don’t feel besieged usually act kindly and with compassion, and don’t do a lot of the awful things that we are capable of as humans. So let’s stop feeling guilty for taking some moments for ourselves.

Everything we experience, emotionally or physically, is the result of chemical reactions in our bodies. These reactions are responsible for negative feelings and experiences, but they are also the reason for our joy and positivity. Love, happiness, compassion: these are all the result of a bunch of hormones that, when in balance, come to the rescue in times of need.

Endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin are what we call the “happy hormones”. They help us have a higher tolerance to pain and physical stress, they regulate mood and help prevent depression, making us happy and sociable. They guide us in the direction of love and are the reason we strive towards our goals and feel satisfied when we reach them.

While things such as promotions, marriage, buying a house and the birth of your children are incredible, they are also rare events that we can’t experience all the time. If we postpone our joy to the weekend, or a holiday, or that promotion, we are literally robbing ourselves of an enormous amount of happiness that’s there waiting for us, every single day.

Happiness shouldn’t be some far-off goal. It should be a daily reality. And it can be, when we remember that it’s the little things in life that bring us the most joy. The following exercise is going to ensure that you feel happiness and joy every day.

Grab a pen and paper, sit down and get ready to get stuck in. Write down 10 small things that make you happy.

Focus on little events or activities that are unique to you. Holidays and birthdays are common to everyone, so they don’t make the list.

This should be a list of happiness-inducing activities that occupy a special little place in your soul and that are part of what makes you who you are. My list includes:

  • drinking a hot cup of tea in the morning and eating toast with an obscene amount of salted butter
  • sleeping in when it rains
  • reading cookbooks and cooking with beautiful produce
  • fumbling about in our ramshackle garden at home
  • watching the sunrise
  • taking long walks with my husband on a quiet weekend, when we talk about our lives
  • devouring non-fiction books

What’s on your list?

Now look closely at your list and think about how many of the activities you actually do on a regular basis. Each day? Each week? Each month?

You might be surprised to discover that although these simple-yet-awesome things bring you so much happiness, you’re hardly doing them at all.

These items are your “joy rides”. These are simple keys to unlocking more joy and happiness in your life. It sounds easy, right? But it can be a challenge.

Put the list up on your fridge, beside your bed or above your desk at work as a reminder to keep your joy rides up. If you are looking at your list and realising that you’re already engaging with some of these joy rides, then this is fabulous. Be even more ambitious with prioritising your joy.

You are responsible for your own happiness and joy. Yes, you. No one else.

By: Jacqui Lewis

Source: Finding happiness daily can be a challenge, but this activity will help

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Why Walking Might Be One of The Best Exercises For Health

To walk is to be human. We’re the only species that gets around by standing up and putting one foot in front of the other. In the 6 million years humans have been bipedal, our ability to walk upright has allowed humankind to travel great distances and survive changing climates, environments and landscapes.   

But walking is more than just transportation — it also happens to be really good for us. Countless scientific studies have found that this simple act of moving our feet can provide a number of health benefits and help people live longer. In fact, a walking routine — if done properly — might be the only aerobic exercise people need.

Many people have taken up strolls around the neighborhood and in nature to pass the time during the pandemic — and there are many reasons to keep it up, says Emmanuel Stamatakis, a professor of physical activity, lifestyle and population health at the University of Sydney.

“Regular walking has all the standard benefits of aerobic exercise, such as improvements in the heart and circulatory systems, better blood glucose control, normalization of blood pressure and reduction of anxiety and depression,” Stamatakis says.

The beauty of walking is that it’s free, it doesn’t require a lot of special equipment and can be done almost anywhere. Most people can maintain a walking practice throughout their lifetime. Yet, in the age of CrossFit and high-intensity cardio, walking is perhaps an under-appreciated way to get the heart pumping and muscles working. It also happens to be one of the most studied forms of exercise there is.   

Do You Really Need to Walk 10,000 Steps a Day?

In general, walking is good exercise because it puts our large muscle groups to work, and has a positive effect on most bodily systems, Stamatakis says.

But for the sake of efficiency — how much walking should one aim for? Public health experts have drilled into us the idea that we need 10,000 steps a day — or about five miles. But contrary to popular belief, this recommendation doesn’t come from science. Instead, it stems from a 1960s advertising campaign to promote a pedometer in Japan.

Perhaps because it’s a round number and easy to remember, it stuck. Countries like the U.S. began to include it in broader public health recommendations. Today, it’s often a default step count to reach on walking apps on smartphones and fitness trackers.

Since the 1960s, researchers have studied the 10,000-steps-a day standard and have turned up mixed results. Although clocking 10,000 steps or more a day is certainly a healthy and worthwhile goal — it’s not a one-size-fits-all fitness recommendation.

“Several studies have consistently shown that significant health benefits accrue well below 10,000 steps per day,” Stamatakis says.  

For instance, a recent Harvard study involving more than 16,000 older women found that those who got at least 4,400 steps a day greatly reduced their risk of dying prematurely when compared with less active women. The study also noted that the longevity benefits continued up to 7,500 steps but leveled off after that number. Put simply, 7,500 is also an ideal daily goal with comparable benefits to 10,000 steps.

Stamatakis notes that 7,500 steps also tend to be in line with common public health recommendations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week for adults.

But picking up the pace might be a good idea. As with any exercise, the physical benefits one gains from walking depends on three things: duration, intensity and frequency. Put simply: walk often, walk fast and walk long. The goal is to walk fast enough to raise your heart rate — even if just for a short burst.

 “Any pace is OK, but the faster the walking pace the better,” Stamatakis says. “It’s ideal for 3,000 to 3,500 [of those steps] to be completed at a brisk or fast pace.”

Walk Faster, Live Longer

In a recent review study involving around 50,000 walkers, Stamatakis and his colleagues linked faster walking speeds to a reduced risk of dying from almost everything except cancer. How much you walk, rather than how fast you walk, might be more important for reducing cancer mortality, the review noted.

Similar boosts to longevity have been found in other studies. Recent work published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings analyzed the life expectancy of nearly 475,000 men and women who self-reported as slow or brisk walkers. The faster walkers — around a speed of 3 miles per hour (or, a 20-minute mile) — could expect to live roughly 15 to 20 years longer than slower walkers, or those who clocked 2 mph (a 30-minute mile.)

Participants who considered themselves brisk walkers had an average life expectancy of nearly 87 years for men and 88 years for women. Increases in lifespan were observed across all weight groups the study included.

What’s considered a quick pace is relative to an individual’s fitness level, but it generally falls somewhere between 3 and 5 mph. A cadence of 100 steps per minute or greater is a commonly accepted threshold for turning a walk into a moderately intense exercise.  

While we know walking is good for the body, research is also beginning to reveal how it impacts brain function. Particularly, walking might be an effective way to slow or decrease the cognitive declines that come with growing older.

A study of older, sedentary adults found that walking for six months improved executive functioning, or the ability to plan and organize. Studies also have found that that walking and other aerobic exercises can increase the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in memory and learning.

Researchers think exercises like brisk walking might improve brain plasticity, or the ability to grow new neurons and form new synaptic connections.  

Can You Lose Weight By Walking?

If walking can help you live healthier and longer, can it also help you shed excess pounds? Not exactly. A common misconception is that working out in and of itself can help someone lose weight. Diet is a far more important piece of the weight-loss equation, research suggests.  

At least one study illustrates that daily walks make little difference in weight management. Weight gain is common among first-year college students. Researchers wanted to determine if walking could ward off the pounds. Their study, published in the Journal of Obesity, monitored 120 freshman women over six months. Over the course of 24 weeks, the students walked either 10,000, 12,500 or 15,000 steps a day, six days a week. Researchers tracked their caloric intake and weight — and found that step count didn’t seem to influence the number on the scale. Even students who walked the most still gained around the same amount of weight. 

Often, when someone increases physical activity, some of the body’s normal physiological responses kick in to make up for the calories burned. One might start getting hungry more often and may eat more, without realizing it.

Even if with a tight control on daily caloric intake, it takes a lot of walking to accumulate a meaningful deficit. To put this in perspective, a 155-pound person would burn roughly 500 calories walking for 90 minutes at a rate of 4.5 mph.

However, walking does seem to influence a person’s body composition. Where a person carries fat might be a more important indicator of disease risk than body mass index. Avid walkers tend to have smaller waist circumferences. Waist measurements that are more than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men have been linked with a higher risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

So a walk in the park maybe won’t make you “ripped” — but it sure beats sitting.

By Megan Schmidt

Source: https://www.discovermagazine.com

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How 21st Century Thinking Is Just Different

Screenshot 2022-04-01 at 21-18-07 flickeringbrad10.jpg (JPEG Image 756 × 567 pixels)

In an era dominated by constant information and the desire to be social, should the tone of thinking for students be different?After all, this is the world of Google. In this world full of information abundance, our minds are constantly challenged to react to data, and often in a way that doesn’t just observe, but interprets. Subsequently, we unknowingly spin everything to avoid any degree of dissonance.

As a result, the tone of thinking can end up uncertain or whimsical, timid or arrogant, sycophant or idolizing–and so, devoid of connections and interdependence. The internet and social media are designed to connect, and with brilliant efficiency, they do indeed connect—words and phrases, images and video, color and light, but not always to the net effect they might.

The nature of social media rests on identity as much as anything else—forcing subjectivity on everything through likes, retweets, shares, and pins. Instead, we might consider constant reflection guided by important questions as a new way to learn in the presence of information abundance. But this takes new habits.

Information Abundance

There is more information available to any student with a smartphone than an entire empire would have had access to three thousand years ago.In one form or another, that idea has been repeated quite a bit since the “Shift Happens” videos were making their rounds on YouTube a few years ago, but it’s easy to miss how incredible this is.

Truth may not change but information does–and in the age of social media, it divides and duplicates in a frenzied kind of digital mitosis.New contexts—digital environments that function as humanity-in-your-pocket—demand new approaches and new habits. Specifically, new habits of mind.Persisting.Managing impulsivity.

Responding with awe.Questioning.Innovating.Thinking interdependently.And in an era of distinct academic standards and increasingly brazen technology, they are increasingly relevant.

Habits of Mind

Art Costa developed the 16 Habits of Mind as a response.Bena Kallick, who worked with Costa on their development, explained, “It was the focus on dispositions–although students were often able to think analytically, for example, were they willing to do so? What is the attitude or disposition a person has for lending their mental activity to the question at hand?

Those sorts of questions drove the development of HOM.”This hints at the concept not so much of student motivation, but student impetus.Why learn?It is curious why we continue to take this question for granted or to respond to it with adultisms—well-intentioned (and often accurate) notions of citizenship and ‘knowledge is power’ that can fail to resonate with learners in an era of like.

20thCentury Models In a 21st Century Environment

If the 20th-century model was to measure the accuracy and ownership of information, the 21st century’s model is form and interdependence. The close thinking needed to grasp this is not beyond the reach of a typical middle school student, but it may be beyond their thinking habits.Facing the barrage of information, task, and procedure they tend to on a daily basis in the classroom, and on their video games and YouTube videos and social media and text messages, students form digital habits as natural as a reflex.

And like reflexes, these habits are a matter of protection and survival, especially as they seek out currencies and value in learning. Instinct kicks in, and they quickly establish what’s most important in a given context.Messaging with friends, empathy and identity matter. And the timing of messages. Minor gestures with seemingly large meaning. In the classroom, other things are prioritized–including adherence, compliance, and impersonal, external evaluation.

This worked when there were no other options, but learning options today don’t just abound, they dwarf formal learning institutions in every way but clout with the power-holders—parents, teachers, deans, and curriculum designers.How the Habits of Mind develop is not as simple as merely naming them. It is one thing to remind little Johnny to persist in the face of adversity. It is another to create consistent reasons and opportunities for him to do so, and nurturing it all with modeling, resources, and visible relevance.

If Johnny is to be rewarded, rather than label him right or wrong, good or bad, novice or distinguished, we can instead nurture the development of thinking habits.Habits, by nature, are reflexive, accessible, and adaptable–not unlike knowledge. This is a can’t-miss point. Internalized and reflexive cognitive patterns that are called upon intrinsically, and transfer seamlessly.Above all else, the 21st-century learner needs for self-knowledge and authentic local placement, two very broad ideas that come from patient thinking. Persistence. Managing Impulsivity. Responding with awe.

Conclusion

The shift towards the fluid, formless nature of information—thinking of information as a kind of perpetually oozing honey that holds variable value rather than static silhouettes and typesets that is right or wrong—is not a small one.But in the face of media abundance, it’s increasingly urgent that we consider such a shift.Old learning forms focused on the thinker rather than the thoughts, the source rather than the information, and correctly citing that source over understanding what made that information worth extracting.

It was also critical for thinking in centuries past to ‘participate’ in a larger conversation. For Immanuel Kant to know what to add to Philosophy, he had to know what had already been said. Same with Albert Einstein and Science, Flannery O’Connor and Literature, Google and data, Mark Zuckerberg and Social Media.The greater the abundance of accessible media, the greater the need to embed thought in important, enduring, and collaborative conversations that flash across the internet, then out into non-digital realms of universities, businesses, books, and coffee shop conversations.

The idea of constant reflection guided by important questions likely sounds too hippie for the data-driven generation that wants to see a bar graph for everything. Data is imperative, as is accuracy, but when we seek reductionist notions of “proficiency” over the habits of a person’s mind, we’ve kind of missed the point, yes?The tone of thinking in the 21st century should not be hushed nor gushing, defiant nor assimilating, but simply interdependent, conjured to function on a relevant scale within a much larger human and intellectual ecology, one that exposes itself daily across instagram, YouTube, Netflix, twitter, facebook, and a billion smartphone screens.

By Terry Heick

Source: How 21st Century Thinking Is Just Different.Critics:By: Bri Stauffer

What Are 21st Century Skills?

21st Century skills are 12 abilities that today’s students need to succeed in their careers during the Information Age.

The twelve 21st Century skills are: 

  1. Critical thinking
  2. Creativity
  3. Collaboration
  4. Communication
  5. Information literacy
  6. Media literacy
  7. Technology literacy
  8. Flexibility
  9. Leadership
  10. Initiative
  11. Productivity
  12. Social skills

These skills are intended to help students keep up with the lightning-pace of today’s modern markets. Each skill is unique in how it helps students, but they all have one quality in common. They’re essential in the age of the Internet.On this page, we’ll take a look at what’s included in 21st Century skills, how they help students, and why they’re so important. You’ll also be able to download a free guide on how you can teach 21st Century skills in middle or high school courses.Learning skills (the four C’s) teaches students about the mental processes required to adapt and improve upon a modern work environment.Literacy skills (IMT) focuses on how students can discern facts, publishing outlets, and the technology behind them.

There’s a strong focus on determining trustworthy sources and factual information to separate it from the misinformation that floods the Internet.Life skills (FLIPS) take a look at intangible elements of a student’s everyday life. These intangibles focus on both personal and professional qualities.Altogether, these categories cover all 12 21st Century skills that contribute to a student’s future career.More educators know about these skills because they’re universal needs for any career. They also vary in terms of importance, depending on an individual’s career aspirations.The 4 C’s of 21st Century Skills are:

  • Critical thinking: Finding solutions to problems
  • Creativity: Thinking outside the box
  • Collaboration: Working with others
  • Communication: Talking to others

The Brain Benefits of Exercising With Other People

In 2020, the world spent more than $7 billion on supplements that promised to enhance brain health. We may as well be setting that money on fire. The quest for the perfect IQ-boosting pill, memory game, or creativity elixir has not been a successful one.

If you’re seeking that one weird trick to improve your brain health, the best place to look might be your feet. That’s the conclusion I reached after my journey through hundreds of studies assessing brain zapping, microdosing, games, and other popular interventions for my book, The Tailored Brain. It turns out one of the only legitimate ways to tailor our brains has been available to us all along: physical activity.

Getting moving has a number of effects that tie directly to the brain’s resilience, from increased blood flow to refreshed connections in the brain itself. But one of the less appreciated ways to enhance these effects even further is to engage with other brains while we engage in exercise.

Humans are, like elephants or naked mole rats, a social species. Evolution shaped us not as single brains making our way through life but as brain collectives, interacting, problem-solving, creating, and, yes, moving through the world, literally, together. A fascinating new hypothesis from evolutionary biology posits that physical activity builds a buffer against the insults of age so that we stick around and are healthy enough to support other people, not so we can sit alone in a cave or a castle and be lonely geniuses.

Interacting with others as we move can unburden our minds, leaving space for crisp new ideas, increased attention, memory power, and a lighter mood. The best news is that even modest amounts of activity offer benefits. Science says so.

How physical activity and social interaction work together

If you find yourself groaning at the idea of more exercise, that may be because “exercise” is an artificial form of physical activity, which can encompass many pursuits from gardening to shopping. And it may be that doing something social while we move around comes to us naturally.

Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman co-authored a recent review of evidence for the argument that physical activity is an evolutionary adaptation that supports brain health into old age. The idea is that as humans evolved, we moved around a lot to keep ourselves fed and cared for, which supported brain health. Both the physical activity and the healthy brain in turn made us able to care for younger generations into old age.

This idea is an evolutionary explanation for why humans survive well past the reproductive years, which is extremely rare among animals. It goes hand in hand with the “grandmother hypothesis,” which posits that in our post-reproductive years, we stick around to care for little ones in younger generations who carry our genes. By keeping them alive, we keep alive the genes we passed along to them, too. Lieberman and co-authors add to this picture by proposing that physical activity supports the brain and body “healthspan” that allows for a physically active old age.

Exercise gets molecules moving, too, for repairs and remodeling

Physical activity causes damage, Lieberman and his co-authors say, in the form of muscle breakdown and release of damaging oxidant molecules. But the scientists offer evidence that when we repair this damage, we overshoot a bit, leaving things even better off than when we started. A huge antioxidant release in response to oxidants from exercise, for example, could buffer against inflammation, which is linked to degenerative brain diseases.

Even a little exercise, like 20 to 30 minutes a few days a week, goes a long way. Moving around gets our blood moving, and that moves molecules to our brains more efficiently. It’s well known that physical activity can send more oxygen to the energy-hogging brain, for example. The presence of oxygen triggers cells to start using glucose, the brain’s preferred energy molecule.

Low glucose use in the brain has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, even in people without symptoms who carry genetic risk variants for the condition. One 2017 study looked at how well the brains of 93 late-middle-aged adults metabolized glucose after physical activity. The researchers used devices to objectively track physical activity for a week and found a link between moderate physical activity and enhanced glucose use in the brain, which is an indicator of good brain health.

Another study using devices for objective physical activity measurement found that people with higher levels of daily physical activity and good motor abilities scored better on tests of cognition. The 454 participants in that 2019 study underwent the monitoring and testing in the years before their deaths, and agreed to donate their brains for analysis after their deaths.

Even when the brains showed changes linked to conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, physical activity levels and motor ability each separately were associated with better performance on the cognitive tests. The researchers speculated that factors like physical activity could enhance the brain’s “cognitive reserve,” or ability to work around damage to the brain and maintain function.

Another measure of the brain’s flexibility and health is how easily it switches from one task to another, which is called “set shifting.” Set shifting is different from multitasking, which is when you’re doing two things at once, like talking on the phone and making dinner.

We use set shifting in social situations, for example: think of how you redirect mental resources at a party as you shift from talking with someone about the food to a conversation with someone else about the state of the nation. In a 2021 meta-analysis of 22 trials of how easily people engaged in set shifting, the authors found that light physical activity was associated with easier set shifting, especially for people who were older.

This ability to adapt fluidly as a situation shifts is the domain of the CEO in our heads, otherwise known as our executive function. Executive function is our ability to manage ourselves through working memory, self-control, and flexibility in thinking.

A meta-analysis published in 2020 assessed the findings of 36 randomized controlled trials of physical activity’s effects on brain-related measures of executive function. Trials like these are considered the most rigorous kind of research design. These 36 studies collectively included 4,577 young people, and the review pointed to links between physical activity and benefits for different aspects of executive function.

A similar kind of review, also published in 2020, looked at the results of 33 randomized trials that had included people over age 55 and also found a benefit of physical activity for executive function. Yet another analysis of 25 randomized trials found physical exercise-related improvements in several features of executive function in healthy adults age 60 and older.

These analyses of findings from more than 100 studies suggest that physical activity benefits the aging CEO in our brains. If Lieberman and his colleagues are right, one upshot may be a longer healthspan for our brains to match our life spans.

How supplements have turned out to be “brain enhancer” duds

The pursuit of the fountain of youth has never turned up a supplement that works as well as physical activity. Researchers initially thought omega-3 fatty acids might get some traction as brain improvers, especially for mood. These fatty acids stood out in uncontrolled studies, where scientists just observe people who have been exposed to a factor and compare them with those who haven’t.

These so-called observational studies hinted enough at brain benefit from these fatty acids that omega-3s became quite popular as an “evidence-based” brain supplement. Imaging also seemed to indicate that brain connections might reconfigure in presumably beneficial ways with omega-3 use.

We use these molecules in building our brains, so the defensible intuition was that we could take them in pill form and reap brain benefits. But when omega-3 supplements were entered into more rigorous randomized controlled trials, they didn’t keep their brain-based promises for effects on mood and anxiety. They didn’t even best corn oil for improving depression symptoms when added to an antidepressant therapy. And randomized studies of the effects of these fatty acids on cognitive impairment, along with mood, have found no benefit.

Generally speaking, no supplement stands out for brain benefits. Longtime stalwarts in some circles, including ginkgo biloba and vitamins B, D, and E, haven’t yielded protection from cognitive impairment in studies. So until we can get the effects of exercise into pills, the best we can do for cognitive enhancement is regular physical activity … perhaps with a dose of engagement with other brains.

The benefits of exercise and social interaction are a two-way street

When I talk about “being social,” the definition is broad and largely references connections between brains, in person or from far away in time or space. You and I are making a connection right now. Hello!

What I found in writing The Tailored Brain is an interesting interaction among a few easily accessible tools that seem to best serve our brains. You’ve met one: physical activity. Another is making connections with other people. When we connect with other people and hear their stories, we can boost general thinking capacity and enhance the influence of being physically active. Both can ease stress and anxiety, sand the edges off a bad mood, and lighten cognitive loads.

Strong social links on their own offer life span benefits that could be on par with quitting smoking. A 2020 study in China of almost 8,000 people age 45 or older found that social behaviors, including engaging in sports, benefit cognitive skills. The authors also concluded that the window of opportunity to take up these practices and gain improvements stays open into old age.

The benefits of exercise and social interaction are a two-way street. Physical activity eases anxiety, stress, and an overloaded brain, which makes space for us to truly engage socially. It’s tough to have empathy when your brain is sitting there like the “this is fine” meme featuring the dog in the room on fire. There’s no space left to react to, or try to interact with, or understand others.

But if we move around with others, as generations of humans have before us, we make that space. And if we share our burdens with each other on an evening walk, we get brain-boosting exercise and brain ease all at once, perhaps in a way that feels less forced and more like a fit for the brains that nature gave us.

Emily Willingham is a science journalist and author of The Tailored Brain: From Ketamine, to Keto, to Companionship, A User’s Guide to Feeling Better and Thinking Smarter (Basic Books, 2021) and Phallacy: Life Lessons from the Animal Penis (Avery, 2020). She is a regular contributor to Scientific American.

Emily Willingham is a science journalist and author of The Tailored Brain: From Ketamine, to Keto, to Companionship, A User’s Guide to Feeling Better and Thinking Smarter (Basic Books, 2021) and Phallacy: Life Lessons from the Animal Penis (Avery, 2020). She is a regular contributor to Scientific American.

Source: The brain benefits of exercising with other people – Vox

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