Published on: May 13, 2012
by Dr. John. L. Pfenninger for Midland Daily News
During the last week, I looked at three studies exploring the effects of computer use, exercise, and eating berries on memory loss. They were rather interesting.
In the first study, 926 people aged 70 to 93 were studied to see if combining computer use and moderate physical activity was better than either one alone at delaying or preventing dementia. Moderate physical exercise was defined as brisk walking, hiking, aerobics or using an exercise bike. Both use of the computer (which included more than just emailing) and exercise reduced the likelihood of memory loss. However, those who engaged in both reduced the odds even more.
It was suggested that physical exercise may target a particular circuit in the brain, whereas mentally stimulating activity enhances other connections. Some commentators on the study suggested that these two lifestyles (exercise and computer use) may just be markers of a healthier lifestyle.
In general, most published studies suggest mentally stimulating activity such as using a computer, doing crafts, reading books, and playing games have been linked to decreased odds of developing dementia. Studies have also been quite consistent in concluding that physical activity does the same. This study would suggest that the two together are better than either one separately.
In another study, resistance training was found to delay the onset of dementia. Just six months of twice-weekly resistance training sessions improved memory and blood flow to various parts of the brain. Although the study was small, memory improvement, not just maintenance, was identified.
Resistance training, which included weight-lifting, was compared to aerobic training and balance and tone training. Each group had instructor-led classes for 60 minutes, twice a week. In this study, resistance training was “more beneficial” than aerobic training. The authors suggested that more research was needed to refine exactly how much exercise was needed for optimal benefit. This study was performed involving only elderly females from 70 to 80 years of age.
The final study looked at consumption of blueberries and strawberries in relation to memory loss. This was a rather large study involving 16,000 older women, with an average age of 74. What the researchers found was that eating blueberries once a week or eating strawberries twice a week slowed memory decline by an average of 2.5 years, when participants aged 70 and older were examined. The study began in 1976 and followed these women for all this time.
Berries are very high in flavonoids, particularly anthocyanidins, which can enter the brain and localize in the hippocampus, known to be an area of the brain involved in learning and memory. Flavonoids have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It would appear that the higher the berry consumption, the more delay there was in mental decline. The researchers reported that women with higher berry intake appeared to have delayed their mental aging by up to 2.5 years.
Those practicing medicine now are constantly faced with new information and encouraged to make their decisions on “evidence-based medicine.” Unfortunately, we don’t always have all of the evidence to make a conclusive statement. The majority of the time we have to go on “best” evidence. It would appear from the current state of the literature, that physical exercise, especially resistance training, engaging in mentally stimulating activities, and certain diets (in this case eating blueberries and strawberries) can delay mental decline.
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