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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The U.S. Will Withdraw From Syria. No One’s Sure What Comes Next

Trump

President Donald Trump has directed the U.S. military to withdraw all 2,200 American ground troops from Syria within 30 days, marking a swift end to the four-year-long conflict against ISIS there. “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” Trump said Wednesday on Twitter.

But pulling out of the war-ravaged country is a lot easier said than done. U.S. military commanders are now scampering to devise a strategy to execute the massive logistical challenge of pulling out troops, equipment and heavy weapons within the desired time frame, Administration officials told TIME. In addition, the mission needs to be carried out in a way that doesn’t completely abandon U.S. military allies nor imperil the hard-fought strategic gains made against ISIS since 2014, officials say.

The Pentagon is wrestling with questions on how the pullout can be handled, including whether the U.S. military should attempt to retake the thousands of weapons it has distributed among Syrian ground forces; whether the American military equipment that’s scattered over a half-dozen military bases in Syria can be pulled out within 30 days or should be destroyed in-place; and what the U.S. should do with the Kurdish fighters and a 79-nation international coalition aimed at eradicating ISIS.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions that need to be resolved quickly,” one official told TIME. “It’s not yet clear how this withdrawal will be handled.”

John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, said in September that countering Iran’s influence in Syria was a major policy goal. He pledged that American forces would stay inside the country as a counterweight to allowing Iran from establishing a stronghold in the region. “We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” Bolton said.

American warplanes began bombing ISIS in Syria on Sept. 22, 2014, a month after the group released a grisly video depicting the beheading of American journalist James Foley. Since then, the U.S.-led coalition has launched some 17,000 airstrikes in the country.

U.S. Will Withdraw From Syria

The U.S. and its allies sent small amount of ground forces since then, trying to build up Syrian allies’ military and police forces sufficient to defend their territory without outside help. Despite the impending pullout, the U.S. will remain involved in the worldwide fight against ISIS throughout the Middle East, Africa and Asia for years to come.

Just how the President’s decision will play out remains something of a mystery. The White House hosted a phone call with reporters Wednesday in which a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, was unable to answer several straightforward questions on how the troop withdrawal would take place and what the Administration’s Syria policy would be in the future.

The White House referred questions to the Pentagon. The Pentagon, in turn, referred questions to the White House.

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Facebook Keeps Missing Chances to Come Clean About User Data

Facebook Keeps Missing

(Bloomberg Opinion) — Nine months after a scandal erupted over Facebook Inc.’s open borders of user information, those borders are in the news again.

The New York Times reported late Tuesday that after Facebook tightened rules in 2015 to limit the account information that could be hooked into outside companies’ apps and websites, the social network made many exceptions and some previously made special deals continued until recently.

Those arrangements allowed companies such as Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Netflix to have a sometimes unsettling level of access to Facebook users’ information. The Facebook data pipeline included, the Times said, Netflix and Spotify being able to read people’s private Facebook messages and letting Amazon obtain Facebook users’ names and contact information through their online friends.

Facebook’s explanation is that the flow of information between its user repositories and the company’s partners did require the consent of Facebook account holders, and that agreements with more than 150 companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo and Apple obliged those partners to comply with Facebook privacy requirements and weren’t abused.

My bigger issue with Facebook is it has missed repeated opportunities to come clean about the scope and breadth of its information pipelines with outside companies.

After the March revelations about how Cambridge Analytica appeared to take advantage of loose Facebook rules to gather information on people’s Facebook friends without their overt approval, we were somewhat comforted by the idea that this was a vestige of Facebook past. Facebook changed policies after 2014, and there would never be a repeat of this Wild West with Facebook user information.

Since then, though, there have been dribs and drabs of reporting from news outlets that even after Facebook tightened its rules about the account information outside companies could harness, Facebook made many exceptions or let old agreements continue long after they stopped being useful. Maybe those special deals were fine to make, met the smell test of consent from Facebook users, and complied with Facebook’s 2011 agreement with the U.S. government to never again share user information without people’s explicit permission. Maybe.

Facebook Keeps Missing

Even if all that were true, why didn’t Facebook do a full accounting after March of all its partnership arrangements that hooked outside companies into Facebook data? That’s my real complaint here. Facebook cannot seem to clean up its own mess.

After the Cambridge Analytica revelations, Facebook should have peered into all the dusty corners of its closet and dragged out all of the skeletons. It had an opening to detail all the companies that had special arrangements for account information for purposes such as recommending Netflix movies that I liked to my contacts on Facebook Messenger. There’s no evidence that Netflix used its ability to peek into people’s private messages, but it sounds creepy, and Facebook whiffed on its chance to identify any open data pipelines, plug up the ones that weren’t absolutely necessary, and make a full accounting to the public and Congress.

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