Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Physical Exercise Beefs Up the Brain

Physical Exercise Beefs Up the Brain

Source: Society for Neuroscience

Boost your brainpower. Train your brain. These days it's hard not to become distracted by ads for the latest program that promises to help you learn faster and hold onto memories longer.

Physical Exercise Beefs up the Brain
Run for your life! Regular aerobic exercise has been associated with increased cognitive abilities, including benefits to learning and memory.
But, even as scientists continue to explore the effects of various brain-training programs, a wealth of evidence makes one thing quite clear: physical exercise benefits the brain. Over a decade of research in animals and people shows that engaging in regular aerobic activity leads to changes in the brain associated with improved cognition.

Exercise increases birth of new nerve cells

One of the earliest clues about exercise-induced changes in the brain came in the late 1990s, when a group of scientists decided to compare the brains of mice given unlimited access to an exercise wheel (runners) to those of mice without exercise wheels in their cages (non-runners).
Compared with the non-runners, the researchers discovered that physically fit mice had double the number of new nerve cells in a region of the hippocampus — an area of the brain involved in learning and memory. When the scientists later taught the runners and non-runners to navigate a water maze, they found the runners learned the task faster than the non-runners and took a more direct route to the maze end. 
Fred Gage, a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies who led both studies, explained that the researchers were "very surprised" to find that the physical activity of a mouse "affects the number of new brain cells and impacts its ability to remember things." At the time, scientists largely agreed the brain affects behavior. Gage's studies suggested the opposite was also true.

Exercising monkeys learn faster

Rodents are avid runners. In fact, with access to the exercise wheel, they will run for hours, racking up several miles each day. Since most people don't put in the hours or mileage running that rodents do, some scientists began to ask: Are long hours of aerobic activity required to see the positive effects of exercise on the brain, or might a more moderate exercise routine do the trick?
To test whether moderate exercise changes the brain, Judy Cameron, a neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh, trained a group of middle-aged and older monkeys to run on a treadmill for one hour each day, five days per week for five months — a running regimen similar to that recommended for average, middle-aged adults. As the one group of monkeys ran, a second group of monkeys sat on the treadmills. Over the course of the study the researchers evaluated the monkeys' ability to learn new things.
Regardless of the age of the monkeys, Cameron's group discovered that the monkeys on the running regimen learned new things twice as fast as the sedentary animals.
"We were excited to see that the same moderate level of exercise that is recommended for middle-aged people is able to improve how the brain works in monkeys — increasing alertness, attentiveness, and leading to faster learning," Cameron says.
According to Cameron, it's possible that the cognitive improvements associated with exercise are the result of increased blood flow to the brain. The greater the blood flow, the faster oxygen and other important nutrients can reach nerve cells.
When Cameron's group compared the brains of the monkeys that ran to the brains of sedentary animals they found that the older runners developed more brain blood vessels. However, when the scientists examined the brains of older runners that stopped exercising for three months, they found that the older runners had no more brain blood vessels than their sedentary counterparts.
"These findings suggest that it's important to keep exercising to retain the benefits of exercise," Cameron says.

Brain benefits across lifespan

Studies of animals and people show an association between physical activity and improved cognitive performance across the lifespan, says Art Kramer, who studies how fitness can change the aging brain at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. According to recent human studies, even people who hold off on regular aerobic activity until later in life may still be able to gain from exercise in their senior years.
As people get older, it is natural for some regions of the brain to begin to shrink. For instance, studies show the hippocampus shrinks one to two percent annually in people without dementia — a loss that is associated with an increased risk for developing cognitive difficulties. Curious about whether exercise could help slow or reverse these changes, Kramer and his colleagues recruited a group of healthy, sedentary adults from ages 55 to 80 to participate in a yearlong exercise program.
These adults were divided into two teams — one spent their time walking for 40 minutes three days per week while the other performed a variety of strength and balance exercises during this time. At the start, middle, and completion of the study, the researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the volume of the hippocampus.
The size of the hippocampus increased by 2 percent on average in the adults that completed the walking regimen and memory improved. In contrast, the participants who completed a yearlong balance and strength training program experienced a 1 percent decrease in the volume of the hippocampus.
"These findings suggest that brain and cognitive health can benefit from very modest increases in exercise and physical activity," Kramer says. "It's never too late to reap the benefits of exercise."


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Gómez-Pinilla F, Hillman C. The influence of exercise on cognitive abilities. Comprehensive Physiology. 3:403-428 (2013).
Haskell WL, Lee IM, Pate RR, Powell KE, Blair SN, et al. Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Aug;39(8):1423-34 (2007).
Pereira A, Huddleston D, Brickman A, Sosunov A, Hen R, et al.  An in vivo correlate of exercise-induced neurogenesis in the adult dentate gyrus. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 13: 5638-5643 (2007).
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Further Reading

Ratey J. Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Boston, 2008.
Reynolds G. Lobes of steel. New York Times, 2007.
Rosen M. Art Kramer, neuroscientist. UC Santa Cruz, 2012.

About the Authors

Jen Uscher is a freelance science writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She has written for ScientificAmerican.com, Popular Science, APA Monitor on Psychology, the Dana Foundation, the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science, and the web site of the PBS science series NOVA.
Jennifer Carr
Jennifer manages science writing for the Society for Neuroscience, which includes editing content for BrainFacts.org. In this role, she works closely with scientists, science writers, and staff to ensure that the content appearing on the site is accurate and engaging.

Caffeine memory study- Scientists reveal the science behind

Scientists reveal that Caffiene May Boost 
Short-Term Memory
200 mg of Caffiene aid to Memory

A double espresso shot after swotting for an exam might help to jog those elusive memories, new research has suggested.
Scientists have found the first clear evidence of caffeine's memory-boosting effect, and shown that it lasts at least 24 hours.
Volunteers took part in a double-blind trial in which they were either given a 200 milligram caffeine pill or dummy placebo tablet five minutes after studying a series of images.
Tests a day later proved that the memory of those who took caffeine had been significantly enhanced.
The amount of caffeine used was roughly equivalent to a double shot of strong espresso coffee.
Lead researcher and assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Dr Michael Yassa, said: "We've always known that caffeine has cognitive-enhancing effects, but its particular effects on strengthening memories and making them resistant to forgetting has never been examined in detail in humans.
"We report for the first time a specific effect of caffeine on reducing forgetting over 24 hours."
More than 100 participants took part in the study, none of whom were regular users of caffeinated products.
Before being given the caffeine pill or placebo, they were asked to identify a series of pictured objects as either outdoor or indoor items.
The next day, both groups were tested on their ability to recognise the images they had been shown earlier.
Some of the images were the same as the ones they had seen, some were new, and some similar but not identical.
Although all the volunteers correctly identified new and old pictures, those who had taken the caffeine pill were better able to spot similar images.
Participants not dosed with caffeine were more likely to be fooled into thinking the similar pictures were the ones viewed previously.
Writing in the journal Nature Neuroscience the team said recognising the difference between two similar but not identical items reflected a deep level of memory retention.
Dr Yassa said: "If we used a standard recognition memory task without these tricky similar items, we would have found no effect of caffeine.
"However, using these items requires the brain to make a more difficult discrimination - what we call pattern separation, which seems to be the process that is enhanced by caffeine in our case."
He added: "Almost all prior studies administered caffeine before the study session, so if there is an enhancement, it's not clear if it's due to caffeine's effects on attention, vigilance, focus or other factors.
"By administering caffeine after the experiment, we rule out all of these effects and make sure that if there is an enhancement, it's due to memory and nothing else."
Caffeine may be acting on the hippocampus, a part of the brain that acts as a relay switching centre for short and long term memories and is the focus of studies into the effect of brain injuries on memory.
He now hopes to gain a better understanding of the brain mechanisms underlying this enhancement and investigate caffeine's potential to protect against cognitive decline caused by diseases such as Alzheimer's Disease. 

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Effective Study Skills That You Need to Know

The need to study for exams is one of the most stressful aspects about school, and therefore it is important to build effective study skills, which are study skills that truly help you understand and memorize the material. However, most students fall into the trap of being unprepared, simply studying the evening before a major test. This not only leaves one terribly nervous, but it also doesn't help to achieve a high score. For those that would like to improve their studying, it is imperative to be familiar with the best methods that can help you do so. Below you will find the study methods that are the most effective for success on your exams.

Your mind is a powerful tool that can not only intake and record information, but it can also be used to positively affect your study habits. Because the mind is malleable, you have the ability to influence outcomes. Therefore, when studying, it is important to do so with a positive mindset rather than that of drudgery, dislike, and even anger. This is one of the study skills that will help you succeed. In 2007, Stanford's Psychology Professor Carol Dweck conducted a study on how mindset affects learning. According to her study, students that had a positive approach towards learning and exhibited the motivation to do so were more successful at understanding and learning the material than their negative-minded counterparts. So, when you study for exams, it is vital that you approach the task positively, expand your mind to enjoy the material, and even find the motivation within yourself. When you do what you love, you only do it better. With that, it is easy to understand why mindset is one of the most effective study skills.
 The Right Place
It's understandable, with all of the technology and media around, it is oftentimes quite difficult to disconnect. This results in you studying in front of your television, near your cell phone, or in a loud and rowdy environment. With that, you have also probably noticed that despite "studying" in such an area, your exam results were not as high as you expected. Well, there is a good reason for that, which is that your mind is terrible at focusing at more than one thing at once. According to the University of Minnesota, the best place to study is in a quiet space, such as your home desk or library. You also should use the same space for your study sessions, as the mind begins to adapt and understand that it is study time. This leads to an effective study skills so you can study for exams the right way. In addition, it is recommended that you turn your cellphone off and avoid television, as they just pose distractions.
 Keep a Study Schedule
Just as the mind is adaptable, so is the body. One of the most effective study skills that you can adopt is to keep a study schedule. A study schedule is one way that you can always help yourself remember to study of exams. To help yourself adapt, you will want the scheduled time to be around the same time of day almost every day. The average time recommended for studying is about an hour each day, making this one of the simplest study skills you should adopt.
 Flash Cards
Alright, while you may think that flash cards are a thing of the past, or they are just used for young kids, flash cards are actually an excellent study tool, making it one of the best study skills that you can use. Flash cards are perfect for memorizing material when you need to study for exams, and they are also a quick way to memorize information.
 Frequently Review Material
Another one of the study skills you should adopt is frequently reviewing material (hint - flash cards). Doing so is a perfect way to study for exams, according to a study by UC San Diego School of Medicine. Frequently reviewing material helps your mind store the information in your long term memory, making it extremely easy to retrieve the information when you need it for an exam. You can help yourself actively memorize by creating summary charts of the information, using flash cards, rewriting the material, skimming the information and finding the "big picture," and practicing application. Effective study skills are important, and adopting this one will certainly help you out.
Lastly, while the material that you study is important, the real star of the show is you. Among the list of effective skills, the most effective skill is between it all is to take care of yourself. Chances are, if you are not sleeping well, eating healthily, getting the right exercise, and are not mentally prepared, you will find that success extremely difficult to achieve. Therefore, when you study for exams, the most effective study skills also include taking care of your body and your own needs while you use the above study skills to prepare for your exam. For more information on Getting Good Grades, check out the Good Grades Guide.

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