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Regular jogging grows brain connections

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*Watching sport puts as much strain on heart as running

Regular exercise is not just good for your waistline – it flexes your brain as well.That is according to a new study by the National Institutes of Health, which found running once a day has a transformative effect on cognitive health.

Examining mice, the researchers found it took just one week of running on a wheel to see a difference.Those that ran had far more new neurons (brain connections) than those that didn’t, making their reactions sharper and their memory better.

Experts say the findings should be a red flag to gym-haters: while you may wait until the scales start to creep up, you should perhaps consider the silent benefits of a workout.

“I think it is a very good idea for the sake of the brain to be moving and active,” Dr. Henriette van Praag, lead author of the study, said.For the study, published in Scientific Reports, Dr. van Praag and colleagues split mice into two groups: a sedentary group and an active group.They routinely analyzed brain tissue of the active group, which spent a week with a running wheel. They did the same for the group which had no exercise apparatus.

The results were stark. Speaking to the New York Times, Dr. van Praag said the study further highlights how beneficial running is as a physical activity.
She said it ‘provides more pieces of evidence that brain cells produced under running conditions are not just quantitatively but qualitatively different’ compared to other neurons.

The study is the latest of many from Dr. van Praag and colleagues showing the benefits of running on the brain. In 2012, she collaborated on a study with the University of Kentucky which found fitter people have bigger brains and better memories, since exercise stimulates connections in the brain.

Last year, her research team got lab mice to swim in a water maze. They found those who swam the most, exerting themselves physically, grew the most brain connections.Also, new research has revealed that watching sport on television puts viewers’ hearts under as much stress as going for a brisk run. A study in Canada found that heart rates can more than double around scoring opportunities or in the dying minutes of a game, regardless of how passionately a person supports the team they are watching.

Scientists used heart monitors on viewers watching ice hockey matches both on television and in the arena.Those watching the spectacle live experienced an average heart increase of 110 per cent, while there was a 75 per cent increase for those watching remotely.

The study, published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, advised doctors to warn sports-supporting patients at risk of cardiovascular ill-health to be aware of possible symptoms during games.”Our analysis of elements of the hockey game associated with peak heart rates supports the notion that it is not the outcome of the game that primarily determines the intensity of the emotional stress response, but rather the excitement experienced with viewing high-stakes or high-intensity portions of the game,” Professor Paul Khairy, from the Montreal Heart Institute.

Prior to the study, participants were asked to fill in a general health questionnaire and to indicate how passionately they supported the team they were about to watch play.Subsequent analysis found the “passion score” did not bear a significant correlation to changes in heart rate.Writing in an accompanying article, experts said the danger of cardiovascular events was “particularly high in the arena and at dramatic moments such as overtime.

“At-risk patients should be warned about potential cardiovascular symptoms and should be instructed to seek medical attention promptly if symptoms develop,” they said.Previous research found a spike in fatal heart attacks and strokes among Dutch people on the day the national football team was knocked out of the 1996 European championship.


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