Diet and Exercise Might Reverse Aging in the Brain

Diet and Exercise

It’s no secret that a healthy diet and plenty of exercise are key to good health, as study after study continues to show. But the latest analysis puts some hard numbers on just how big a benefit they can have on the brain, by possibly reversing some of the effects of aging.

In a study published in the journal Neurology, researchers led by James Blumenthal, professor in psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center, found that even among a group of older people who already show signs of thinking problems, exercising regularly over six months and eating more healthfully can improve their performance on cognitive tests.

The 160 people in the study, who were all over 55, began the study showing thinking skills that were similar to people in their 90s: 28 years older, on average, than they actually were. The volunteers were divided into four groups. One group participated in an aerobic exercise program, another was assigned a low-sodium diet, a third was asked to exercise and change their diet at the same time, and a fourth control group was provided educational sessions about how to improve their brain health.

The group that exercised and changed its diet at the same time showed the greatest improvements in cognitive tests after six months. They improved their test scores by nine years, to resemble those of people 84 years old. The control group showed a continued decline in their brain test scores, and the researchers did not see a significant benefit from either exercise or change in diet alone.

“The bottom line is that it’s not too late to derive benefits from exercise, even in this group of people who have evidence of cognitive impairments,” says Blumenthal.

Diet and Exercise

All of the men and women in the study were sedentary when they started the study, and while they showed signs of cognitive decline, they did not have dementia. They also had at least one heart-disease related risk factor. Researchers know that heart health, and how well blood circulates throughout the body and brain, is important to maintaining cognitive skills, since the brain relies on oxygen–rich blood to fuel its activities.

Blumenthal was impressed that improving diet and exercise was helpful even in this group that was at risk of developing cognitive problems and potentially even dementia. “This is not necessarily a cure, but there is currently no pharmaceutical intervention for preventing dementia,” he says. “So a starting point of improving lifestyle with exercise and perhaps diet in this group of people can have important implications down the road for their overall wellbeing.”

The fact that the group following both the exercise and diet programs showed the greatest benefit suggests that the two interventions may work together to improve brain health, Blumenthal says. “We saw evidence that exercise and the diet together are better than nothing,” he says. “We showed you can get improvements in function that can reduce and certainly improve neurocognitive function, and possibly even postpone development of dementia late in life.”

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Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself. Science Says You Have a Pretty Good Sense of Your Own Personality

Sense of Your Own Personality

It’s a common belief among psychologists that people’s perceptions of themselves should be taken with a grain of salt, because they’re often thought to be positively biased and less accurate than the judgments supplied by others. But you really do know yourself best, according to a new paper published in the journal Psychological Science.

The new research found that people are actually better at judging their own personalities than scientists previously assumed — and, if anything, people tend to view themselves more negatively than others do.

“I honestly went into this research thinking, ‘Yeah, we’ll find big effects for self-enhancement,’ and that wasn’t the trend at all,” says study co-author Brian Connelly, an associate professor of management at the University of Toronto-Scarborough.

While individuals vary in their tendencies, the researchers found that on average, people are unlikely to overhype their traits more than their family, friends or colleagues. (They did find that self-reports were often more positive than assessments from strangers, who may judge someone both inaccurately and unfairly harshly.)

Of the “Big Five” personality traits — emotional stability, extraversion, openness/intellect, agreeableness and conscientiousness — the researchers found that on average, individuals’ self-assessments tracked closely with or were even harsher than those supplied by outsiders. People’s ratings of their own emotional stability and conscientiousness were especially likely to be more negative than what their peers said.

The researchers only found a consistent positive bias in how people rated their own openness, relative to others’ descriptions. Even there, the effect was small and confined to a few sub-measures of openness, such as tendency to be reflective, explore artistic pursuits and experience new things.

Sense of Your Own Personality

But Connelly says the discrepancies in the ratings you supply for yourself versus those provided by others might have more to do with other people than with you. It’s difficult for people to understand and accurately judge another person’s innermost self, which may lead to skewed results. “Being open and thoughtful and reflective is something that people don’t necessarily see,” Connelly says. “It’s something that’s harder for them to guess, so other people may not know when it’s happening. In the same way, feeling lots of negative emotions, like anxiety and depression, are hard things to see, unless somebody talks about it.”

There’s also a well-known psychological phenomenon called the fundamental attribution bias, which says that people are more likely to blame someone else’s failings on that person’s personality, while they chalk their own shortcomings up to situational circumstances. With all of these tendencies at play, Connelly says, it’s difficult for anyone to be truly accurate and objective when it comes to assessing personality, even their own.

“Who knows personality truly and without bias? We don’t necessary know that ourselves. Other people don’t necessarily know it. But if you ask a lot of people, you’re probably getting at least a pretty good and accurate view of someone,” Connelly says. “As a whole, that means that we generally will balance out toward having accuracy in how we perceive ourselves and what we predict about ourselves.”

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Doctors Aren’t Getting Better at Treating Shooting Victims Even As Gun Deaths Ris


In November, after the American College of Physicians published a position paper on firearms and safety in a medical journal, the National Rifle Association publicly warned doctors to “stay in their lane”. Surgeons around the U.S. responded by posting grisly photos and stories of treating shooting victims—and the hashtag #ThisIsOurLane was born.

Now, a new study published in JAMA Surgery finds that people who go to the hospital after being shot die from their injuries just as often as they ever have, despite improvements in survival for other types of trauma victims.

The researchers compared the numbers of people who left the hospital after gunshot wounds with those who left after car accidents. The victims of both types of trauma are injured by external forces and arrive at the hospital in an ambulance requiring urgent care, usually by a trauma team. Surgeons often engage with both types of patients and care for them in similar ways, says Dr. Robert Tessler, lead author of the study and a surgery resident at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Surgery.

Using a decade’s worth of data from the National Trauma Data Bank National Sample Program and the CDC’s Wide-Ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research, the study found that there was an annual average 0.17% decline in the number of car accident accident victims who doctors could not save, while the number of gunshot victims who became fatalities showed no such drop. While that percentage seems small, it represents hundreds of lives a year.

From a surgery standpoint, “we should be and probably are as good at taking care of firearm injuries as we are of injuries related to car crashes,” says Tessler, who did the study while he was at Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center at the University of Washington. “If we’re getting better at one group of patients, we should be getting better at the other. But we’re not getting better at firearm injuries.” This suggests that firearm injuries may be getting more severe over time, he says.


The study does not identify why there has been no concurrent decrease in the number of shooting victims who perish either in the hospital or before they arrive. But Tessler points out that there has been for many years a wealth of publicly available, detailed information about what causes traffic accidents. This has led to many interventions: speed limits, drunk- and distracted-driving laws, banked roads, new braking technology and more widespread use of such traffic-calming measures as speed humps and chicanes. “The science behind how to make cars safer is so impressive and effective,” says Tessler.

Of course, cars and guns have different purposes. One is to get you somewhere quickly and efficiently, and the other is to hit a target. But Tessler, who acknowledges that he has participated in advocacy for gun safety, notes that people are prepared to make cars slightly less effective at their job—slowing them down with traffic lights and stop signs and roundabouts—for the sake of safety. They might also take the same attitude toward guns, and reduce their efficiency to make them safer.

As for the NRA’s charge that doctors are straying out of their area of expertise in taking a stance on firearms, Tessler disagrees. “These are our patients,” he says, of the people who come into the hospitals’ operating rooms. “We need to advocate for them as much in the street as in the O.R.”

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