Exercise increases academic performance in children

Throughout the human history, physical activity has been the mainstay for the survival of mankind. But with the emergence of new technologies, there is sudden change in the lifestyle leading human to embrace a sedentary life style and forget the principal component of evolution. Paradoxically, with the increase in research in this area, the relevance of physical activity has become even important today irrespective of the age and moreover for the children as it impacts their academic life.

If the result of research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine is to be believed, exercise helps in improving the academic performance of children, specifically the girls.The more intensive the exercise, the greater was the influence on the test results.

The study test the relationship between physical activity and academic performance in adolescents. Physical activity of 4755 children were analyzed objectively by accelerometer when there were 11 years. Then the academic performance of these children was measured at 11 and was followed up at 13 years and 16 years.

Results showed an increase in performance in English in both sexed and increase in the performance of science in female only. Going by the results, female students benefit more from exercise than their male peers.

In brief, this study showed a long term positive impact of physical activity in the academic performance of children.

There are also a lot of other researches that are focused on exercise and academic performance. Barring a few, most of these researches have shown a positive influence of physical activity in the academic performance of children.
The increase in academic performance as a result of physical activity is also well supported by brain research done in animals. Increase in synaptic plasticity proteins is well documented in animal brain following physical activity or exercise. Increase in these synaptic plasticity proteins specifically in hippocampus is crucial for learning and memory.

To sum up, physical activity should be encouraged in schools and care should be taken that children are familiar not only with modern day gadgets, but also with the importance of physical activity that was the prime driver of human evolution.

Reference:
Booth JN,Leary SD, Joinson C, et al.Br J Sports Med 2014;48:265–270

Picture source: http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/graphics/4032/activities_kids.gif

Note: Some of the views expressed here are not related to the reference article.

Good sleep promotes communication between your neurons (by inducing formation of new synapses).

A good night sleep is essential for refreshing oneself after a hectic day. It’s now known to us that sleep is essential not only for healthy body, but also for healthy mind. The role of sleep in the consolidation of memory has already been established. But the cellular and molecular processes behind this sleep induced memory consolidation are not yet known.

Researches have shown conflicting views regarding the role of sleep in synaptic plasticity. Some research supports the idea of synaptic down-scaling, whereas other supports the idea of synaptic up scaling during sleep.

A study conducted by Yang et al at New York University, School of Medicine, showed that sleep promotes formation of post-synaptic dendritic spines on a subset of branches of individual layer V pyramidal neurons in the mortor cortex of mice.

The study can be divided into two parts. In 1st part, they assessed spine formation following training. For this, they used two groups of mice. The experimental group consisting of mice that were given motor training for 2 days and the control group consisting of untrained mice. Rotarod motor training was given to the experimental group. The results were analyzed based on  time frame of experiment. Firstly, within 6 hours of motor training and then within 24 hours and after 24 hours of motor training. In 2nd part, they gave rotarod training to mice and divided the mice into two categories: non-sleep deprived and sleep deprived mice.  Then, they assessed the formation of new dendritic spines in sleep deprived vs non sleep deprived mice.

The results showed significantly higher formation of dendritic spines in trained mice in first 6 hours of training as compared to untrained controls. This formation of dendritic spines in trained mice was continuous in the 1st day. The spine formation remained confined to about 30% of dendrities after 24 hours of motor learning.  Likewise, there was significant reduction in dendritic spines in  sleep deprived mice as compared to non-sleep deprived mice. The reduction in the dendritic spines after sleep deprivation cannot be compensated either by motor training or by sleeping again.

Sleep consist of two phases: Rapid eye movement(REM) phase and NREM(non rapid eye movement) phase. Sleep deprivation in  REM phase did not disrupt the  formation of dendritic spines. Its in the NREM phase of sleep that dendritic spines are formed. Also, the study showed via calcium imaging that it’s the same neurons that are activated during neuronal activation at wakefulness and NREM phase of sleep. This neuronal reactivation during NREM phase is critical in the formation of new dendritic spines.

Concluding the results, rotarod training is important for the formation of new synapses as shown by increase in dendritic spines in trained mice as compared to untrained controls in the 1st part of the experiment. However, there was significant reduction of dendritic spines in sleep deprived mice undergoing motor training  suggesting that sleep is necessary for  formation of new synapses after learning. Formation of new synapses after learning occurs during NREM phase of sleep and neuronal reactivation is responsible for it.

Reference:

Guang Yang et al, Sleep promotes branch-specific formation of dendritic spines after learning, Science 344,1173 (2014); DOI: 10.1126/science.1249098

Aerobic training might be an answer to alzheimer’s disease(AD)

Exercise-Benefits-for-Sedentary-Elderly

Picture taken from http://guardianlv.com/

Alzheimer’s disease(AD) is a neurodegenerative disease responsible for most cases of dementia in elderly population. A lot of trials with drugs are ongoing in order to find the prevention and cure of AD. But recent research have shown life style modification and behavioral changes to be as effective as drugs in the prevention of AD.

A study published in the journal of gerontology has shown 6 months of aerobic exercise effective in reducing the symptoms of AD in the elderly population.

This study used 6-month cycling intervention to older adults of a selected community with mild-to-moderate AD. The exercise was a standardized, supervised, and individualized, moderate intensity cycling for 15 to 45 min a session (excluding 10-min warm-up and 10-min cool-down activities), 3 times a week for 6 months.

The outcomes of this training regimen were evaluated by measuring the cognition, ADL(Activities of daily living), BPSD(Behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia) and caregiver distress at the end of the experiment.

The data was collected from older adults with mild to moderate AD and they were followed up for 6 months. The results showed neither significant cognitive decline nor deterioration of the neuropsychiatric symptoms during the 6 month period. Also, aerobic exercise significantly reduced the stress in the caregivers.

There are other papers which have shown the benefit of exercise in neuropsychiatric as well as neurological disorders. Nevertheless, every research paper has its own limitations. But this finding that showed the effectiveness of exercise in preventing the progression of AD is very encouraging. Although, more detailed and precise research need to be done, opening of sports center for the elderly people to engage them in mild-moderate intensity aerobic exercise might be a good idea. Like they say prevention is better than cure, these type of sports center for elderly people might help in preventing AD, thus preventing the social as well and economic burden in the future.

For more details, see the reference article below:

Impact of 6-Month Aerobic Exercise on Alzheimer’s Symptoms                                     Fang Yu, William Thomas, Nathaniel W. Nelson, Ulf G. Bronas, Maurice Dysken,and Jean F. Wyman, Journal of Applied Gerontology published online 11 December 2013,DOI: 10.1177/0733464813512895

 

Study: Vitamin E may help Alzheimer’s patients

The Chart

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, nor is there an effective method of reversing symptoms such as memory loss, disorientation and difficulties in organizing thoughts. But a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests there may be some hope for improvement in these patients, in the form of vitamin E.

The study authors say that this is the first demonstration of vitamin E benefiting Alzheimer’s patients with mild to moderate disease. However, they caution that it doesn’t prove that the vitamin is always effective and therefore should not be universally recommended.

“This is a well done study by a solid research group,” said Maria Carrillo, vice president of Medical and Scientific Relations at the Alzheimer’s Association, in a statement. “The results are positive enough to warrant more research to replicate and confirm these findings, but should not change current medical practice. No one should take vitamin E for Alzheimer’s…

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Active Brain and Brain Exercise

A brain is called an active brain when it is involved in the activities that fire or stimulates the neurons. Active brain, also called busy brain is a state of brain in which the neurons are firing continuously or are involved in the activities that fire or stimulate neurons. The main key to active brain is that neurons should be stimulated continuously so that they become habituated to stimulation once the necessity arises. It can be achieved through physical exercise or mental exercise. Mental exercise can also be called brain exercise. Based on the mechanism, brain exercise can be classified into two types:

  • Direct: Brain exercise that directly engages the neurons. For example: mental stimulating games, chess, Sudoku.
  • Indirect: Indirect brain exercise involves physical activity that does not directly engage the neurons. For example jogging, running.
Chess_-_strategic_board_game_for_two_players1(Source:http://blog.pdus2go.com/special-edition/when-business-feels-like-a-game-of-chess/)

Chess, a good mental exercise

Some games like football, basketball or cricket which requires strategic thinking and planning have direct as well as indirect effects in making the brain active.

Advantages of active brain and brain exercise:

Like we need to do weightlifting regularly if we want to build our triceps and biceps and run regularly to be a sprinter or marathon runner, to be a mental athlete, we need to exercise the brain regularly. Brain exercise has similar effect to our brain as the weightlifting have to our muscles.

Dementia is a collective symptom for the decrease in cognitive capacity. It involves memory loss, poor judgement, challenges in planning or solving problems. Exercising the brain regularly can halt or slow the progress of dementia. It increases the cognitive reserve in the elderly population.

Aging is a physiological process that affects each cell and organ of our body. Every organ tend to slow down with aging and so as our brain and the neurons. The normal brain aging can be further worsened by deposition of deposition of harmful substances leading to brain disease. Memory loss is the most common problem encountered during aging. The problem is neurons are less active or the brain is less active during old age. In a sense, then tend to become lazy and do not fire when needed. These lazy neurons must be activated or we should try to maintain the active neurons. This is possible only through active brain and brain exercise is the key to active brain. If you experience the memory loss, then you need to counteract the memory loss by activating your neurons through memorization of your day-to-day activities at the end of the day. If you make the habit of memorizing, then that will provide your neurons the necessary stimulus to become activated and helps you in halting or stopping memory loss.

Here are some simple tips for making your brain active:

  • Memorizing daily activities at the end of day before sleep.
  • Playing board games like chess, tiger moving.
  • Solving puzzles, crosswords and playing Sudoku.
  • Involving oneself in intellectual activities in society like debate and quiz.
  • Learning new language.
  • Make the habit of reading books.
  • Try to make the habit of critical thinking, multidimensional way of observing things.

There are a lot of ways of making the active brain. The key to the active brain is engaging yourself in the activities that are brain storming. Besides, don’t forget about the diet and exercise. These are equally important for active brain and healthier brain. To sum up, brain exercise is a simple and cost-effective way of achieving brain health. The key to brain exercise is active brain and active body.

Dementia Prevention and Awareness

DementiaAwareLogo_c_CW_500-2-300x300

Dementia is a common problem of the elderly population. There are about 40 million cases of dementia today. Alzheimer’s disease comprises more than half of the cases of dementia.This trend just seems to be unstoppable. According to the Alzheimer’s Disease International, it is set to treble worldwide by 2050 causing a global epidemic. Given that there will be a lot of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, the health care budget will significantly rise. So, effort must be made to reduce the cost of dementia care by raising the dementia awareness and prevention strategies.

There is no established method for the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But a small change in your diet or lifestyle can mean a lot for preventing dementia. New prevention strategies that are being studied are focused on lifestyle and dietary factors. Micronutrients like folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin D and magnesium are thought  to maintain and improve brain health.The results with turmeric and vitamin B are promising. Fish oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acid is also beneficial for the neurons. Similarly exercise has been shown to be effective in preventing amnesia associated with aging. Playing board games like chess, solving puzzles and cross words provides mental stretching to the brain. Experiments have shown these games to be helpful for the prevention of dementia.

Regular exercise, healthy diet and mental stimulation can also be called the three pillars of brain healthy lifestyle. Exercise increases blood circulation and reduces the cholesterol level. Healthy diet provides energy and prevents the formation of harmful chemicals in the brain. Games like Chess and Sudoku gives you the mental stimulation needed for keeping the brain active. And active brain helps in resisting degeneration of brain cells which is responsible for dementia.

For those wanting to know further details about dementia, find it on What is dementia? The signs, symptoms and causes of dementia – Medical News Today.

If you are worried about the recent cognitive decline or fearing that you might have dementia or Alzheimer’s Know the 10 signs of Alzheimer’s disease from Alzheimer’s association.

Related articles:

Playing chess, a way of achieving healthier brain

Chess is widely considered as an intellectual game. It requires a lot of visuospatial capability and calculation. Some researchers have even found chess players to be more intelligent than the other, while other have rejected this hypothesis. The purpose of writing this blog is not to argue about this point. What i am trying to tell is chess definitely helps in making your brain healthy. Playing this game during old age prevents the age related cognitive decline and dementia.

File:Chess board opening staunton.jpg

What the research tells?

Researchers at Universidad de Laguna, Spain compared the students playing chess and those playing soccer or basketball. Their results showed that students playing chess have improved cognitive and problem solving capacity than the counterparts playing soccer or basketball. The findings of this research correlates well with the results of  functional magnetic resonance imaging(fMRI). Researchers at University of Minnesota, USA reported  bilateral activation of frontal, parietal and occipital areas in fMRI  while playing chess. Its the frontal area of our brain that is involved in problem solving and intelligence.

While there are research favoring the importance of chess in brain development, there are some which denies this idea. By using Tower of London test( A psychological test for executive functioning), German researchers dismissed the idea that chess player has superior planning performance as compared to non chess players. Though they thefind planning performance to be superior in the chess players, there was no difference in the intelligence between the chess players and the non chess players.
So the research divides the opinion regarding the superior planning performance and intelligence in chess player. Further research need to be done before we become sure about the effect of playing chess in brain. But what we should not forget is chess is a brain stimulating game and it has been proved by the brain imaging that it helps in the activation of the brain areas.

What are the benefits of playing chess? 

 Psychological and intelligence test conducted on chess  players dismiss the idea of chess players being intelligent or being more efficient planner or thinker than those who don’t play chess. But there are other studies which tend to differ. Here are some benefits of playing chess as mentioned in the website  http://www.chessvibes.com/reports/10-big-brain-benefits-of-playing-chess: 

  • Increases the IQ
  • Prevents Alzheimer’s disease
  • Increases creativity and problem solving skills
  • Improves memory,reading skills and concentration
  • Promotes the growth of dendrites in the brain

For more information about the benefits, visit the webpage by clicking the above link.

How often do you need to play chess?

There are no clear studies indicating the frequency and time one need to spend . Playing chess is just like doing meditation or your daily routine training like jogging,swimming or cycling. The more you play, the more your chance of reaping the benefits. Like the exercise training or meditation, its never late to start learning chess

Reference and related articles:

  1. Atherton MZhuang JBart WMHu XHe S, A functional MRI study of high-level cognition. I. The game of chess. Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2003 Mar;16(1):26-31

  2. Aciego RGarcía LBetancort M, The benefits of chess for the intellectual and social-emotional enrichment in schoolchildren. Span J Psychol. 2012 Jul;15(2):551-9
  3. Unterrainer JMKaller CPLeonhart RRahm B., Planning abilities and chess: a comparison of chess and non-chess players on the Tower of London taskBr J Psychol. 2006 Aug;97(Pt 3):299-311
  4. Unterrainer JMKaller CPLeonhart RRahm B.Revising superior planning performance in chess players: the impact of time restriction and motivation aspects. Am J Psychol. 2011 Summer;124(2):213-25
  5. Frontal Lobe Function in Chess Players.  http://acta.tums.ac.ir/files/journals/1/articles/4501/public/4501-4858-1-PB.p
  6. Ten big brain benefits of playing chess.                http://www.chessvibes.com/reports/10-big-brain-benefits-of-playing-chess

Fearing dementia during old age??Vitamin B might be the solution!!!!

Vitamin B12

Sources of Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin which has a wide range of function including DNA synthesis and myelination of neurons. A new research study published by University of Oslo has shown yet another vital role of Vitamin B12 in neurological diseases. People suffering from early stage cognitive impairment called Mild Cognitive impairment(MCI) and impending dementia will benefit from the new discovery.The findings of the research have shown Vitamin B12 to be effective in preventing Alzheimer’s disease, especially in those who have high level of homocysteine in their body. Homocysteine is an amino acid, which is thought to be involved in the formation of neurofibrillary tangles in the neurons, thus disrupting the communication between neurons and giving rise to AD. There is a direct proportional relation between increased blood homocysteine level and the rise in mild cognitive impairment.

An elevated level of homocysteine can be reduced by administering Vitamin B12. It can be administered orally, or via injection. But the dose of Vitamin B12 in these persons must be higher than the normal dietary requirement.

What are the sources of Vitamin B12?

Sources of Vitamin B12: Sea foods like salmon, shrimps, sardines; milk and milk products; eggs,red meat and liver and legumes. Vegetarians must be careful to avoid dietary deficiency of Vitamin B12. It’s advisable for the vegetarians to take Vitamin B12 capsules. Similarly, elderly people and those who consume excessive alcohol might have poor absorption of this vitamin. In these cases, it’s better to check your Vitamin B12 level regularly and take the parenteral (injection) form of Vitamin B12.

Reference:

http://www.med.uio.no/imb/english/research/news-and-events/news/2013/vitamin-b-impedes-development-of-alzheimer%E2%80%99s-.html

Withania Somnifera (Ashwagandha) and its neuroprotective effects

What is Ashwagandha or Withania Somnifera?

Withania Somnifera(WS), also called Ashwagandha in Sanskrit is a herbal plant widely mentioned and used in ayurvedic medicine. In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is used to enhance mental health and memory and research have proved that it, in fact, enhances memory. Recent studies have also shown that the ashwagandha root have other wide range of therapeutic properties like antistress, immunomodulatory and antioxidant.

Berry of the Withania somnifera plant

Berry of the Withania somnifera plant

Ashwagandha its use in neurodegenerative diseases:

The roots of Ashwagandha extracts have shown to reduce the number of hippocampal degenerating cells significantly in the brains of stressed rodents and were neuroprotective in animal models of Parkinson’s disease.

Studies done in rats at Defense Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, India have shown that withania somnifera roots can improve the hypobaric hypoxic induced memory impairment and neuronal degeneration. Likewise, study done in Human neuronal cells at Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, USA showed that Ashwagandha(Withania Somnifera) benefits in Alzheimer’s disease(AD). It shows neuroprotective effects in AD.

Animal studies have shown that withania somnifera reverses the behavioral deficits, plaque pathology and accumulation of β-amyloid peptides (Aβ) in the brain. The roots of WS reverse the effect of beta amyloid induced toxicity in AD. Accumulation of β-amyloid is known to be one of the major pathogenesis associated with AD. Thus withania somnifera (WS) extracts can be used as an agent for the prevention of AD. β-amyloid and ashwagandha treated cells  showed no reduction in spine density, spine area, spine length and number of spines as compared to untreated control thus showing the protective effect of ashwagandha on spine density. It is the reduction of spine area, spine length and number of spines which are related to neurodegenerative diseases causing decrease in synaptic plasticity and thus compromising learning and memory. Study done at Chonbuk National University, South Korea has shown that WS stimulates the NMDA receptor in hippocampal cells which is the brain area important for learning and memory.

So, Ashwagandha is an important herb and recent studies have shown promising results regarding its medical benefits, nevertheless in neurodegenerative diseases.

References:

Janardhan Prasad Bhattarai, Soo Joung Park, and Seong Kyu Han, Potentiation of NMDA receptors by Withania somnifera on hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons

Am. J. Chin. Med. 41, 503 (2013). DOI: 10.1142/S0192415X13500365

Baitharu I, Jain V, Deep SN, Hota KB, Hota SK, Prasad D, IIavazhagan G, Withania somnifera root extract ameliorates hypobaric hypoxia induced memory impairment in rats.

J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 Jan 30;145(2):431-41. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2012.10.063. Epub 2012 Dec 2

Kurapati KR, Atluri VS, Samikkannu T, Nair MP, Ashwangha (Withania somnifera) Reverses β-amyloid 1-42 Induced Toxicity in Human Neuronal Cells: Implications in HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorders (HAND) PLoS One. 2013 Oct 16;8(10):e77624. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0077624

Cannabis and its controversial use in neuronal disorders

Cannabis

Cannabis Sativa

Cannabis is a flowering plant, the flower, seeds and leaves of which are used chiefly as recreational drugs. They contain a high amount of a compound called tetrahydrocannabinol(THC) which is used as psychoactive drugs. Cannabis has been mentioned in ancient literatures such as Vedic literature and the use of it has been mentioned in Sikhism and Buddhism as well. At present, the use of Cannabis is illegal in most of the world. But it has not lost its relevance in regard to treating several medical conditions. Although Cannabis was used as a pharmacological agent for the treatment of pain in the past, its use has become wider in modern medicine. It is used in the treatment of Glaucoma, AIDS wasting, neuropathic pain, treatment of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, and chemotherapy-induced nausea.

Recently, there has been a focus on the controversial use of Cannabis and its products in treating neuronal disorders. Cannabis contains THC. There are cannabinoid receptors present in different parts of Brain. Hippocampus, basal ganglia and cerebellum contain the highest concentration of cannabinoid receptor in the brain. So, the intake of Cannabis has effect on memory, muscle movement, balance and coordination executed by these brain parts.

There are very few clinical trials done in regard to the effect of cannabis on neurological disorders. A lot of debate is ongoing about the legalization of cannabis and marijuana for neurological disorders and other medical conditions. In the US, some states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, whereas others have not. But marijuana is shown to be helpful in several neurological disorders like epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. Marijuana reduces the convulsions and the muscle spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis. The use  of marijuana in neurological disorder is also worth considering in other degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s  as there are a lot of cannabinoid receptor present in the brain areas affected by these diseases.

Many MS patients report that cannabis has a very good response on muscle spasms, balance, bladder control , speech and eyesight. Many wheelchair bound MS patients admitted walking freely after smoking cannabis. The use of cannabis by MS patient in Britain is in rise despite the legal prohibition and obstacles. As many as 4% of the MS patients in Britain use cannabis as reported by the British Multiple Sclerosis Society.

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannabis

http://science.howstuffworks.com/marijuana4.htm

http://www.freewebs.com/medcanaware/neurologicaldisorders.htm

http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=9586&page=115