Posts Tagged ‘brain function’

Exercise May Boost Recovery of Motor Function in Stroke Patients

Aerobic exercise improves cardiorespiratory fitness in patients with stroke, and also may have a beneficial effect on their brain function as well as help them improve recovery of motor function, according to the results of a new study.

Aerobic exercise elicits a variety of positive effects in people of all ages.

Recently, researchers have found significant improvements in aerobic exercise capacity among stroke patients who underwent a structured cycling exercise program.

“The effects of aerobic exercise may serve to prime the central nervous system in individuals with stroke to create an environment optimal for neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to reorganize itself),” Susan Linder, a research physical therapist at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, told a packed poster session at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting in Philadelphia.

“Our work in individuals with Parkinson’s disease indicates that forced exercise administered via a motor-assisted stationary bicycle results in increased cortical activation and improved motor and non-motor function when compared to voluntary exercise,” Linder said.

The precise mechanism responsible for improvements in patients with Parkinson disease is unknown, but Cleveland Clinic researchers hypothesize that aerobic exercise increases concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein released in the CNS that facilitates long-term enhancement of signals within the brain and promotes growth of dendrites, which are branched filaments in nerve cells.

“Pairing aerobic exercise with upper extremity repetitive task practice in individuals with stroke may exploit the neuroplasticity properties associated with BDNF and optimize motor learning,” said Linder.


She reported the results of a study of 14 patients who had a stroke within the previous 6 to 12 months.

They were randomized into 3 groups.

One group performed a 45-minute session of aerobic exercise at a forced rate within their heart rate range on an exercise cycle, followed by 45 minutes of repetitive task practice with hands or arms.

The second group performed the same exercises but exercised at their own rate.

The third group did no aerobic exercise and performed two 45-minute sessions of upper extremity exercises.

All participants exercised 3 times a week for 8 weeks, and they were able to complete the cycling protocol with modifications for fatigue.

All were able to achieve hundreds of repetitions with repetitive task practice.

“Motor outcomes are trending in a positive direction for all groups, but the group who performed forced rate exercise displayed the most consistent improvements,” Linder said, noting that the control group had twice the amount of time doing upper extremity exercises.

“We also saw improvement in depression and quality of life in the aerobic exercise group trending toward favorable.”

Linder added, “We know that aerobic exercise can help stroke patients’ physical fitness.

Is there a neuroplasticity effect?

We hope that the byproduct of aerobic exercise is reduced amounts of rehabilitation time as well as doses that lead to better motor outcomes for stroke patients.”

The Cleveland Clinic researchers are expanding their research to include 75 patients and will add in neurological examinations.

Said Linder, “We plan to look at changes in structure of connectivity within the brain using imaging and resting MRI to see whether areas of brain regrow and improve neural connections with aerobic exercise.”

Milk Makes You Smarter

A glass of milk a day could benefit your brain, according to new research that found milk drinkers scored better on memory and brain function tests.

Pouring at least one glass of milk each day aids nutrition and boosts your intake of much-needed key nutrients.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 3 glasses of low-fat or fat-free milk daily for adults to support bone and heart health.

Now there’s the possibility that milk could also positively impact your brain and mental performance, according to a recent study in the International Dairy Journal.

Adults with higher intakes of milk and milk products scored significantly higher on memory and other brain function tests than those who drank little to no milk.

Milk drinkers were 5 times less likely to “fail” the test, compared to non-milk drinkers.

Researchers at the University of Maine put nearly 1,000 men and women, ages 23 to 98, through a series of brain tests – including visual-spatial, verbal and working memory tests – and tracked the milk consumption habits of the participants.

In the series of 8 different measures of mental performance, regardless of age and through all tests, those who drank at least 1 glass of milk each day had an advantage.

The highest scores for all 8 outcomes were observed for those with the highest intakes of milk and milk products compared to those with low and infrequent milk intakes.

The benefits persisted even after controlling for other factors that can affect brain health, including cardiovascular health and other lifestyle and diet factors.

In fact, milk drinkers tended to have healthier diets overall, but there was something about milk intake specifically that offered the brain health advantage, according to the researchers.

The potential to stave off mental decline may represent a novel benefit with great potential to impact the aging population.

“Diet modification to alter the course of age-related cognitive decline is becoming increasingly important,” the researchers wrote.

While more research is needed, they suggest some of milk’s nutrients may have a direct effect on brain function and that “easily implemented lifestyle changes that individuals can make present an opportunity to slow or prevent neuropsychological dysfunction.”

Your Brain on Exercise, and with Meditation

I’ve got exercise on the brain as I try to get in shape for the upcoming golf season, and two new studies caught me eye, one about the effects of exercise on the brain and the other about how meditation reduces pain-related activation of the brain.

Exercise increases the growth of brain cells and improves brain function, says Terry Eckmann, Ph.D, professor in the teacher education and performance department at Minot State University in Minot, ND.

“Exercise balances brain chemicals, hormones, and system functions,” says Eckmann.

“Research suggests that every system of the body functions more efficiently with regular exercise. Exercise is medicine and can make a difference in disease prevention and management.”

A protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is “like Miracle-Gro for the brain,” she told the American College of Sports Medicine’s 15th-annual Health & Fitness Summit & Exposition in Anaheim, CA, on April 14, 2011. The protein helps to grow new neurons in the hippocampus area of the brain, which plays important roles in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory and spatial navigation. The protein also aids transmission of information across the synapses of neurons.

Recent studies show that students with higher fitness levels score higher on academic tests and show an improved ability to focus.

Scientists have also documented the ability of exercise to help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain to suffer damage in Alzheimer’s disease.

The second study reported in the April 6 issue of the The Journal of Neuroscience shows that a little more than an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation.

In this small study, 18 healthy volunteers who were new to meditation were taught a meditation technique known as focused attention, which involves paying close attention to breathing patterns while acknowledging and letting go of distracting thoughts, says first author Fadel Zeidan, PhD, who is a postdoctoral fellow at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

The volunteers were subjected to heat on the skin of their thigh to induce pain during brain imaging, both before and after they had practiced meditation.

The imaging showed that, after just 4 20-minute sessions of meditation, pain intensity ratings were reduced by an average of 40%, and the pain unpleasantness rating was reduced by 57%.

Meditation engages multiple brain mechanisms to reduce activity in key pain-processing regions of the brain, concluded the researchers.

These studies have emboldened me to ride my bike and speed walk more often and continue my Tai Chi classes (which is like meditation in motion). It should make me feel better, if not smarter, and maybe I’ll feel less pain the next time I knock a golf ball into the woods.