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Exercise and the Brain
Old 05-14-2015, 07:37 AM   #1
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Exercise and the Brain

A no-brainer for sure... Exercise is good for the brain.

Of course!... exercise is good for the body, for longevity, for agility, for the heart... and just about everything that has to do with health... and we know why. Because it builds muscles and keeps the whole body working better.

But why the brain? Wouldn't things like mental exercise be better? Doesn't the actiity from playing chess, or solving puzzles or maybe the newer on-line brain challenges, work better to ward off mental deterioration.

So, physical exercise is innately a positive for brain health... but why?
This article discusses the actual physical action, and a protein that protects and supports cells.

Aerobic exercise seems to be the key... a very unpleasant thought for those of us who are becoming arm chair athletes, still, something more than the gererality that "exercise keeps you young".

The best brain exercise may be physical - Chicago Tribune
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In the mid-1990's, Carl Cotman's team at the University of California-Irvine first showed that exercise triggers the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which helps support the growth of existing brain cells and the development of new ones.

With age, BDNF levels fall; this decline is one reason brain function deteriorates in the elderly, according to Cotman. Certain types of exercise, namely aerobic, are thought to counteract these age-related drops in BDNF and can restore young levels of BDNF in the age brain.

"In a sense, BDNF is like a brain fertilizer," said Cotman, a professor of neurology and neurobiology and behavior and founding director of the Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI Mind). "BDNF protects neurons from injury and facilitates learning and synaptic plasticity."
more...

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Over the last two decades, researchers have learned that exercise acts on multiple levels in the brain. The brain's wiring depends on the integrity of the brain cells or neurons, as well as the connections between the neurons, or the synapses.

As we age, the synapses are lost or break down. Cotman's work has shown that in older rodents, exercise increases the number of synapses and also stimulates the brain to develop more neurons in the hippocampus, which he called "a critical region in learning and memory formation and a target of massive decline in Alzheimer's disease."

Still, for those newly created brain cells, or neurons, to work — to help us learn and remember new things — they need to be plugged into the existing neural network, said Romain Meeusen, chair of the department of human physiology at the University of Brussels.

Exercise helps integrate the new neurons into the brain's circuitry to help improve learning, Meeusen said.
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Old 05-14-2015, 08:03 AM   #2
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Exercise is good for almost everything health related except weight loss.
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Old 05-14-2015, 08:22 AM   #3
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because your head is connected to your body, that's why
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Old 05-14-2015, 08:47 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by donheff View Post
Exercise is good for almost everything health related except weight loss.
Not true, of course.

I watched a bit of the video, and the speaker's message is that if you exercise some, then reward yourself by eating like a pig, you won't lose weight, which is rather obvious.

And I would add that even if you eat well, you may gain wait by losing fat and building muscle, which is a good thing. That's why I think we should stop emphasizing BMI as a measure of health.
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Old 05-14-2015, 08:57 AM   #5
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agreed, I think BMI is dumb
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Old 05-14-2015, 08:59 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by donheff View Post
Exercise is good for almost everything health related except weight loss.
Thanks, Don... Almost didn't watch this, but glad I did. Reward for exercise.... hard to think this wouldn't be true, and yet this is truly one place where the risk is in believing doing right always results in "reward"...

The problem is that when the advertising world convinces us that we're doing the right thing, it's hard to swim against the tide.

It's gonna be dull, and hard to do, but it's back to counting calories.
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Old 05-14-2015, 09:04 AM   #7
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Good news for us older rodents...
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Old 05-14-2015, 09:42 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Which Roger View Post
Not true, of course.

I watched a bit of the video, and the speaker's message is that if you exercise some, then reward yourself by eating like a pig, you won't lose weight, which is rather obvious.

And I would add that even if you eat well, you may gain wait by losing fat and building muscle, which is a good thing. That's why I think we should stop emphasizing BMI as a measure of health.
You should watch the whole thing. What he demonstrates with a boatload of studies is that exercise - even large amounts - will make little difference in weight as long as you continue eating the same things as you have in the past. He also believes exercise is the best medicine for general health that exists. But portraying it as a weight loss approach fails. The undelivered promise of weight loss can undermine motivation and lead people to stop or decrease exercise thus loosing the real benefits - including brain health to get back to the original topic.
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Old 05-14-2015, 10:44 AM   #9
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You should watch the whole thing. What he demonstrates with a boatload of studies is that exercise - even large amounts - will make little difference in weight as long as you continue eating the same things as you have in the past. He also believes exercise is the best medicine for general health that exists. But portraying it as a weight loss approach fails. The undelivered promise of weight loss can undermine motivation and lead people to stop or decrease exercise thus loosing the real benefits - including brain health to get back to the original topic.
I don't know how other people's bodies work, but this is 1000% consistent with the way my particular, individual body works. Exercise really doesn't affect my weight although what I eat does affect it tremendously. Maybe my metabolism adjusts to compensate for the exercise, but anyway exercise doesn't seem to help my weight loss at all.

I exercise whether I am working on losing weight, or whether I am not, because I want to be as strong, flexible, and capable as I can be now that I am growing older.

For me exercise is a very serious form of preparation for old age with the objective of becoming a strong, capable, independent elderly person instead of a feeble old lady. Honestly, what person over 50 would NOT exercise when you think of the alternatives as we grow older?
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Old 05-14-2015, 12:02 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by imoldernu View Post

It's gonna be dull, and hard to do, but it's back to counting calories.
Sorry for hijacking the thread with my pet obsession but I don't believe this is the answer. Calories count but counting them doesn't work. There is no way you could accurately judge precisely how many you need or precisely how many you are processing. What you end up doing is cutting back portions until you are hungry all the time. That is a guaranteed prescription for failure in 90%+ The better answer is to change what you eat (the whole real food thing). Once you get that right (and it can vary from person to person) you will automatically eat what you need without the constant hunger. I did that 3 years ago and lost 18% of my body fat. Since then I have stayed +-2 pounds with no portion control and no attention to calories. I do occasionally get an obsessive urge for one of my former faves - this morning I almost stopped in Starbucks for one of their double fudge brownies. kind of like the sudden urge to light up you get years after quitting cigarettes.
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Old 05-14-2015, 12:14 PM   #11
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It's gonna be dull, and hard to do, but it's back to counting calories.
Or, the truly radical and very likely effective thing you could do is to read some of the excellent studies that show that for weight loss, low carb high fat diets dominate the competition.

Not that other diet types cannot work. They can, look at Jenny Craig, or the Ornstein diet. But these require very strong motivation, because they leave the dieter feeling hungry most of the time. And sated rarely.

Except for some upper class women who are willing to undergo nail-biting semi-starvation diets, I think that I have never known a middle aged person who lost meaningful weight, and maintained the loss, on calorie counting.

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Old 05-14-2015, 04:36 PM   #12
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Calories counting seems to work for me. Lost 30 pounds and kept it off for six or seven years. I use the Losit phone app.

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Old 05-14-2015, 04:52 PM   #13
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Calories counting seems to work for me. Lost 30 pounds and kept it off for six or seven years. I use the Losit phone app.

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Good work!

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Old 05-14-2015, 05:32 PM   #14
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When my husband retired in February, we started walking everyday. Around 2 to 3 miles (plus our normal walking throughout the day). Without really trying I have lost 25 lbs (mind you I need to lose much more). Of course I only eat till I am full now and listen to my body. Hopefully, the weight lose will continue. Just my 2 cents.
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Old 05-14-2015, 05:41 PM   #15
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Exercise works for losing weight. Eating more and exercising doesn't. It's always about input vs output. Exercise won't work if you (or the kids discussed in that video at least what I watched of it) eat a lot more because they exercise a little.

I ride a fair bit and when I am riding a lot it is very hard for me to keep my weight up. I know of people who ride much more than I do and they are much fatter than I am. But their rides include stops for lunch at the donut place..because they are riding 50 miles and need the energy (including eating about 250 cal/hr in addition). And they wonder why they have trouble losing weight.

Exercise is good for lots of stuff. It improves circulation (which may explain part of why it is good for the brain), releases chemicals that make you feel good and reduces stress. It also helps lose weight if done right. I think its better to market exercise for weight loss because it is a tangible thing that people can see.
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Old 05-14-2015, 06:30 PM   #16
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Exercise works for losing weight. Eating more and exercising doesn't. It's always about input vs output. Exercise won't work if you (or the kids discussed in that video at least what I watched of it) eat a lot more because they exercise a little.

I ride a fair bit and when I am riding a lot it is very hard for me to keep my weight up. I know of people who ride much more than I do and they are much fatter than I am. But their rides include stops for lunch at the donut place..because they are riding 50 miles and need the energy (including eating about 250 cal/hr in addition). And they wonder why they have trouble losing weight.

Exercise is good for lots of stuff. It improves circulation (which may explain part of why it is good for the brain), releases chemicals that make you feel good and reduces stress. It also helps lose weight if done right. I think its better to market exercise for weight loss because it is a tangible thing that people can see.
That's me - stop for lunch at the donut place in the middle of a long bike ride, and basically break even weight-wise.

A few years ago, when I was running 40+ miles per week, I could eat pretty much whatever I wanted and still lose a bit of weight. During the times when I was somewhat careful about what I ate, the pounds came off quickly.
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Old 05-14-2015, 09:44 PM   #17
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Exercise is good for almost everything health related except weight loss.
I listened to roughly the first half of this talk. My guess is that if we carefully read each of these studies, we would find out that there are millions of holes in what he is suggesting are prefect studies which definitely give the truth.

We all know people and whole groups of people who lose weight or stay lean mainly through exercise. If you have done varsity sports you realize that usually you are too damn tired to eat much when you get home. Same is true of certain occupational groups. I lived for years in timber country, and I never saw a fat logger. One might guess that only lean men become loggers, but really I think it is the sociology of these areas. You get out of school, you get a job in the woods, you get a young woman pregnant, you get married or at least move in together then unless the spotted owl gets you are basically a logger until injury or age sits you down..

Also, look how many people here lost weight and maintained the loss with exercise. I'll never figure this out, because it would be a major commitment, and I have no dog in the fight. Still I am suspicious of the message that you cannot lose or control weight with exercise.


I just spent 5 frustrating minutes trying to read the original article linked by Imoder. It opens to the page, then tells me to sign up or "not now". So I click not now, and I go into a loop that keeps cycling me back to the sign up pop up- so I give up.


Can anyone give me a summary of the important points, if there are any?


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Old 05-14-2015, 11:23 PM   #18
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anecdotal story:

16 months ago my wife and I began counting calories (my fitness pal) and excising (Treadmill / Rowing Machine / Running, and step tracking with fitbits).

Combined we lost about 130 lbs, and have kept it off since. We still count calories every day, and exercise about 5 days a week (1/2 marathon coming up in a couple weeks). While losing the weight, it was months of being "Hungry", but now we're mostly comfortable as far as hunger goes.

We eat whatever we want, and just count calories. If we have extra left over at the the of the day, we break open the ice cream, or eat something from the treat box (usually chocolate). If MFP says we're out of room, we stop eating. (We tend to make smart choices, and avoid high calorie foods throughout the day).

The year before, I had lost some weight by counting calories, got to a target weight, and stopped tracking calories. I gained all the weight back in 6 months. This time around, I lost the weight, and have kept tracking, and haven't gained a single pound back in a year.

So far, calorie counting has worked for us very well, and because we track everything, we have educated ourselves on how many calories are in foods, and how much we need. I anticipate that tracking calories will be something we continually do, but it really is easy with websites like MFP.

Edit to add: I guess to keep this somewhat on topic, anecdotal again -I notice that I am much more mentally alert and less mentally fatigued at work and home, since starting exercising. I was mostly sedentary and lazy for about 10 years after some knee surgeries in my early 20's (I'm currently 35 years old).

2nd edit to add: The Concept 2 Rowing stories and recommendation on this forum (largely driven by haha) were very inspiring and convinced me to try it out, as it was low impact on my knee. After using it for a few months, my knee strengthened enough to begin running (where a long walk used to make my knee swell up). so a big THANK YOU to all the inspiring people on this forum, it has truly changed my (and my wife's) lives.
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Old 05-15-2015, 06:53 AM   #19
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Ha: I pulled out several paragraphs with key points. The author goes into adolescence, young adulthood, etc in more detail but I didn't see much about what studies support the thesis. Exercise is so healthful for lots of reasons that I am happy to accept this one even if the differences are placebo. I exercised throughout life and gained a pound a year until three years ago so, for my specific circumstances, I had to conclude that exercise alone is not going to do it for me. I had to change the food I eat to modestly LCHF to achieve that (or as you and others noted, probably cutting calories by counting would work - but much harder for me).

In the mid-1990's, Carl Cotman's team at the University of California-Irvine first showed that exercise triggers the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which helps support the growth of existing brain cells and the development of new ones....

As we age, the synapses are lost or break down. Cotman's work has shown that in older rodents, exercise increases the number of synapses and also stimulates the brain to develop more neurons in the hippocampus, which he called "a critical region in learning and memory formation and a target of massive decline in Alzheimer's disease."
Still, for those newly created brain cells, or neurons, to work — to help us learn and remember new things — they need to be plugged into the existing neural network, said Romain Meeusen, chair of the department of human physiology at the University of Brussels.
Exercise helps integrate the new neurons into the brain's circuitry to help improve learning, Meeusen said....

Research also suggests that exercise improves blood flow to the brain and, as a result, enhances cognitive abilities. "The blood carries oxygen and feeds neural tissues, so you're getting the benefits that come with that," Hillman said....

Sadly, the hippocampus naturally shrinks in late adulthood, leading to impaired memory and increased risk for dementia.
But research suggests aerobic exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus and increase levels of a protein that aids the growth of new brain cells, potentially holding off changes in the brain and improving memory function...

In another study, researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found that people who said they exercised for 30 minutes five times a week in late-middle age did better on cognitive tests and showed less accumulation of the beta amyloid plaque, the protein that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.
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Old 05-15-2015, 08:46 AM   #20
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I couldn't bring myself to watch all of the video donheff posted, but I don't buy it. One of the issues I heard was the classic correlation <> causation mistake. Also, one of the studies he mentioned was a 10-year longitudinal where the participants self-reported their exercise habits over that decade.

Exercise is just one part of weight management. A lot of people are addicted to sugar or have otherwise been out of whack with perceived vs. needed calories for so long that exercise alone isn't going to help and may even hurt. They need to accurately count calories in and calories out (exercise). But counting accurately can be hard and it's easy to come out behind. I bet I hear at least a handful of times a month from people who use the "calories burned" display on their or the gym's treadmill/elliptical/bike. I've also helped a handful or so of folks who I'm close with and who couldn't lose despite tracking in/out and running a reliable deficit. In all but one of those, one issue was not accurately and reliably logging food intake. Either stopping by the counter and snacking and not logging it, or having a logged meal but neglecting "little" things like that 50 cal pat of butter put on piece of bread.

I see a lot of similarity to personal finance. Different things work for different people. Some people don't need to track at all, some can track top down (my net worth is going up reliably) and others must track bottom up down to the penny. Exercise is like a side job. Mathematically speaking, it always creates a caloric deficit (more discretionary income). But either can create a "hunger" that can cause one to eat or spend more than was gained by the exercise or side job.
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