Exercise/Athletic

Short and long sleep durations lnked with excess heart age

Sleep duration and heart age may be a simplified way to express cardiovascular disease risk

June 4, 2018

Science Daily/American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Preliminary results from a new study show that excess heart age (EHA) appeared to be lowest among adults who reported sleeping seven hours per 24-hour period.

 

Results show that mean adjusted EHA was lowest among adults who reported sleeping seven hours per 24-hour period. Sleeping times less than or greater than seven hours were associated with increased excess heart age, and the highest elevations in EHA were noted in short sleepers. Sleep duration coupled with EHA may prove helpful for communicating the cardiovascular risks and benefits associated with sleep duration.

 

"These results are important because they demonstrate a quantitative method for the inclusion of sleep duration in the establishment and communication of cardiovascular risk for individuals. This could have utility in the clinical care of patients with cardiovascular risk, and for public health researchers interested in adding a sleep metric to future studies," said primary researcher and study author Julia Durmer, BS candidate, Emory University, the Center for the Study of Human Health and student researcher, Emory University, Rollins School of Public Heath in Atlanta, Ga.

 

The study involved 12,775 adults ranging in age from 30-74 years who responded to the 2007-2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Self-reported sleep duration was classified into five categories (5 or less, 6, 7, 8, and 9 or more hours of sleep per night). They used the sex-specific Framingham heart age algorithm to calculate each individual's heart age and used multivariable linear or logistic regression to examine the association between sleep duration and EHA or risk of EHA 10 years or more.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180604093121.htm

New mindfulness method helps coaches, athletes score

August 4, 2017

Science Daily/American Psychological Association

When it comes to success in sports, coaches and athletes understand that there's a mental component, but many don't have an understanding of how to prepare psychologically. That's where the concept of mindfulness can be beneficial, via a program to help athletes and coaches at all levels develop that mental edge and improve their performance.

 

"It's been suggested that many coaches regard sport as at least 50 percent mental when competing against opponents of similar ability. In some sports, that percentage can be as high as 80 to 90 percent mental," said Keith Kaufman, PhD, a Washington, DC-area sport psychology practitioner and research associate at The Catholic University of America presenting at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association. His six-session program, developed in collaboration with Carol Glass, PhD, also of The Catholic University of America, and clinical psychologist Timothy Pineau, PhD, is outlined in the book "Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement," to be published by APA later this month.

 

A number of psychological studies support the importance of mental preparation, according to Kaufman. One involved more than 200 Canadian athletes from the 1984 Olympics who were assessed for three major readiness factors: mental, physical and technical. Of the three, only mental readiness was significantly associated with how successful they were at the Olympics.

 

"With popular belief and scientific evidence being in such harmony, one might expect that mental training would be a top priority within the athletic community. However, curiously, this is not the case," said Kaufman. "We have met so many athletes and coaches who know that mental factors, such as concentrating, relaxing and letting go of thoughts and feelings, can aid performance, but have no idea how to actually do those things under the pressures of training and competition."

 

Kaufman outlined a multi-step program he and his co-authors developed based on the practice of mindfulness, by which coaches and athletes at all levels can increase their mental readiness.

 

Mindfulness entails being aware of the present moment and accepting things as they are without judgment. When people are able simply to watch experiences come and go, rather than latch onto and overthink them, they are better able to intentionally shift their focus to their performance rather than distracting negative experiences such as anxiety, Kaufman said.

 

"For example, an athlete could identify that 'right now, I'm having the thought that I can't finish this race,' so rather than reflecting an objective truth, it's seen as just a thought," said Kaufman.

 

The program itself consists of six group-based sessions that contain educational, discussion and experiential components, as well as recommendations for daily home practice. The training begins with sedentary mindfulness practice, where participants are instructed to focus on experiences like eating and breathing, but gradually more and more movement is incorporated, culminating in a sport-specific meditation in which athletes or coaches apply a mindful style of attention to their actual sport performance. In addition to formal exercises, the program emphasizes informal mindfulness practice, which involves engaging in daily activities with mindful intention, helping participants to integrate mindfulness into their workouts, practices and competitions, as well as everyday life.

 

The training is easily adapted to accommodate any sport at any level, from amateur to professional, he said. It can also be adapted for use by a single performer or by those in other high-pressure domains such as the performing arts or business.

 

Recent research cited by Kaufman points to the significant potential for this approach. Two studies involving 81 university athletes found that athletes who completed the program showed significant increases in various dimensions of mindfulness and flow, which is the mental construct often associated with being "in the zone." They also rated their own performance higher and experienced less sport-related anxiety. At a follow-up months later, these gains were maintained and in one of the studies, involving two teams that had losing records the previous year, both had winning seasons following mindful sport performance enhancement.

 

"We wrote this book so that sport psychologists, athletes, coaches, psychotherapists with clients who are athletes or performing artists, researchers, educators and anyone else interested in applications of mindfulness for their own personal fitness or performance can have access to a complete guide to mindful sport performance enhancement exercises, materials and theory," he said. "No background in psychology, mindfulness or the sport sciences is required to benefit from the content."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170804091350.htm

 

Brains evolved to need exercise

June 26, 2017

Science Daily/University of Arizona

Mounting scientific evidence shows that exercise is good not only for our bodies, but for our brains. Yet, exactly why physical activity benefits the brain is not well understood. Researchers suggest that the link between exercise and the brain is a product of our evolutionary history and our past as hunter-gatherers.

 

In a new article published in the journal Trends in Neurosciences, University of Arizona researchers suggest that the link between exercise and the brain is a product of our evolutionary history and our past as hunter-gatherers.

 

UA anthropologist David Raichlen and UA psychologist Gene Alexander, who together run a research program on exercise and the brain, propose an "adaptive capacity model" for understanding, from an evolutionary neuroscience perspective, how physical activity impacts brain structure and function.

 

Their argument: As humans transitioned from a relatively sedentary apelike existence to a more physically demanding hunter-gatherer lifestyle, starting around 2 million years ago, we began to engage in complex foraging tasks that were simultaneously physically and mentally demanding, and that may explain how physical activity and the brain came to be so connected.

 

"We think our physiology evolved to respond to those increases in physical activity levels, and those physiological adaptations go from your bones and your muscles, apparently all the way to your brain," said Raichlen, an associate professor in the UA School of Anthropology in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

 

"It's very odd to think that moving your body should affect your brain in this way -- that exercise should have some beneficial impact on brain structure and function -- but if you start thinking about it from an evolutionary perspective, you can start to piece together why that system would adaptively respond to exercise challenges and stresses," he said.

 

Having this underlying understanding of the exercise-brain connection could help researchers come up with ways to enhance the benefits of exercise even further, and to develop effective interventions for age-related cognitive decline or even neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.

 

Notably, the parts of the brain most taxed during a complex activity such as foraging -- areas that play a key role in memory and executive functions such as problem solving and planning -- are the same areas that seem to benefit from exercise in studies.

 

"Foraging is an incredibly complex cognitive behavior," Raichlen said. "You're moving on a landscape, you're using memory not only to know where to go but also to navigate your way back, you're paying attention to your surroundings. You're multitasking the entire time because you're making decisions while you're paying attention to the environment, while you are also monitoring your motor systems over complex terrain. Putting all that together creates a very complex multitasking effort."

 

The adaptive capacity model could help explain research findings such as those published by Raichlen and Alexander last year showing that runners' brains appear to be more connected than brains of non-runners.

 

The model also could help inform interventions for the cognitive decline that often accompanies aging -- in a period in life when physical activity levels tend to decline as well.

 

"What we're proposing is, if you're not sufficiently engaged in this kind of cognitively challenging aerobic activity, then this may be responsible for what we often see as healthy brain aging, where people start to show some diminished cognitive abilities," said Alexander, a UA professor of psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience and physiological sciences. "So the natural aging process might really be part of a reduced capacity in response to not being engaged enough."

 

Reduced capacity refers to what can happen in organ systems throughout the body when they are deprived of exercise.

 

"Our organ systems adapt to the stresses they undergo," said Raichlen, an avid runner and expert on running. "For example, if you engage in exercise, your cardiovascular system has to adapt to expand capacity, be it through enlarging your heart or increasing your vasculature, and that takes energy. So if you're not challenging it in that way -- if you're not engaging in aerobic exercise -- to save energy, your body simply reduces that capacity."

 

In the case of the brain, if it is not being stressed enough it may begin to atrophy. This may be especially concerning, considering how much more sedentary humans' lifestyles have become.

 

"Our evolutionary history suggests that we are, fundamentally, cognitively engaged endurance athletes, and that if we don't remain active we're going to have this loss of capacity in response to that," said Alexander, who studies brain aging and Alzheimer's disease as a member of the UA's Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute. "So there really may be a mismatch between our relatively sedentary lifestyles of today and how we evolved."

 

Alexander and Raichlen say future research should look at how different levels of exercise intensity, as well as different types of exercise, or exercise paired specifically with cognitive tasks, affect the brain.

 

For example, exercising in a novel environment that poses a new mental challenge, may prove to be especially beneficial, Raichlen said.

 

"Most of the research in this area puts people in a cognitively impoverished environment. They put people in a lab and have them run on a treadmill or exercise bike, and you don't really have to do as much, so it's possible that we're missing something by not increasing novelty," he said.

 

Alexander and Raichlen say they hope the adaptive capacity model will help advance research on exercise and the brain.

 

"This evolutionary neuroscience perspective is something that's been generally lacking in the field," Alexander said. "And we think this might be helpful to advance research and help develop some new specific hypotheses and ways to identify more universally effective interventions that could be helpful to everyone."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170626155729.htm

Attitude makes a champion

Attitude distinguishes champions on the bumpy road to success

April 25, 2016

Science Daily/Frontiers
In their search for the optimal path to greatness, some athletes believe that the path should be clear of all obstacles, while others say that such challenges are instrumental to talent development. Now, a recent study suggests that what really distinguishes champions is how they face and overcome such obstacles.

https://images.sciencedaily.com/2016/04/160425112257_1_540x360.jpg
Elite performers expressed an internal drive and commitment to their sports.
Credit: Courtesy of Dave Collins

"We've found that there are universal psychological characteristics amongst those who are aspiring to get to the top," says Professor Dave Collins, lead author of the study, as well as Chair and Director of the Institute of Coaching and Performance at the University of Central Lancashire. "We have a good idea of what makes people excellent and how we can help them reach peak performance."

By interviewing athletes from varied sports such as soccer, rowing, skiing, and combat sports, Collins and his collaborators sought to find distinguishing characteristics between the best of the best, the good, and those that didn't quite make the cut. For each participant, they collected information about career trajectory, perceived challenges and the participant's reactions to such obstacles. Interview questions also explored participants' commitment to their sports and their interactions with coaches and families.

The results showed that elite performers expressed an internal drive and commitment to their sports that their "almost" great colleagues lacked. The elite approached training with a "never satisfied" attitude, whereas "almosts" might avoid challenging training exercises. Following an injury or a failure to perform, high performers were determined to get back to their sports, stronger than ever. Low achievers, on the other hand, often expressed surprise at their failures, telling how they lost enthusiasm after such incidents.

Despite these differences in the athletes' attitudes, there was surprisingly little variation in the nature or number of the challenges themselves. All had roughly comparable traumatic incidents during their careers. More than the challenges themselves, the differences came down to how the athletes reacted to these obstacles and the champions' positive, "learn from it" attitudes.

"From our research, we're assembling a set of rules to guide what a coach should be doing and what skills an athlete should end up with," says Collins. "Furthermore, these characteristics hold true for other fields as well, from sports to music to any environment."

While challenge may be integral on the path to success, this research suggests that challenge is not sufficient in itself. An aspiring athlete's attitude towards challenge is what most distinguishes the champions from the rest.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160425112257.htm

Exercise genes? Study suggests certain people with depression may benefit from exercise

April 27, 2016

Science Daily/University of Florida
Call it personalized medicine for depression -- but the prescription in this case is exercise, which researchers have found helps people with certain genetic traits.

A UF study has found that specific genetic markers that put people at risk for depression also predict who might benefit from exercise, according to a study published recently in The Journal of Frailty & Aging. The researchers found that men who were carriers of two specific genes had the most significant response to exercise. The results suggest physical activity as part of a treatment plan -- exercise as moderate as walking -- could help the carriers of these genes.

"I want to better understand who could benefit most from physical activity. I'd like to take the same approach to exercise that we take to medication, which is to have a personalized medicine approach," said Vonetta Dotson, Ph.D., the study's first author and an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Health Profession's department of clinical and health psychology. "If we show through systematic research that exercise has a good chance of helping a patient because of their particular characteristics, I think that might help with patients' motivation to exercise."

The results came from a small pilot study, so more research needs to be done before this work can be translated into clinical practice. But in the future, it's possible that blood or saliva could be tested to determine if a person could benefit from physical activity to lower depressive symptoms.

The study used data gathered in the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders, or LIFE, pilot study. During the LIFE pilot study, 396 sedentary older adults were separated into two groups: those who received health education classes and those who were given moderate physical activity classes for 12 months.

A subsequent paper published from the LIFE pilot study found that exercise did not significantly affect depression symptoms across the whole group, but that changed when the research team tunneled down into the data.

"When we looked at subgroups, we ended up finding significant response to exercise in men who were carriers of a specific gene." Dotson said.

To assess the participants' response to exercise, they took a test called the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, a screening test for depression and depressive disorders, at the beginning of the LIFE study's intervention. They took the test again after the interventions ended, at 12 months. The scale assesses four factors, including symptoms of sadness and fearfulness, symptoms such as loss of appetite and concentration difficulties, and a diminished capacity to experience pleasure or perceived difficulties in social relationships.

The participants also underwent genetic testing before the intervention, and the researchers tested three genes: the brain-derived neurotrophic, or BDNF, gene, a serotonin transporter gene and a gene called apolipoprotein E. The researchers found the greatest decrease in symptoms such as loss of appetite and concentration difficulties in men who carried the BDNF genetic variation that predisposed them to depression. They also saw an increase in the capacity to experience pleasure in men who exercised regularly who carried specific variations of the serotonin transporter gene.

Co-author Taimour Langaee, Ph.D., MSPH, a research associate professor in the UF College of Pharmacy's department of pharmacotherapy and translational research and Center for Pharmacogenomics, is interested in research studies on the effect of antipsychotic drugs on depression. When patients are treated with antidepressants, the level of BDNF expression normalizes, helping them overcome depression, Langaee said. This study was different because it was designed to investigate the effect of physical activity in relation to genetic variations in these genes on changes in depressive symptoms.

"We already know that physical activity increases neurotransmitters and endorphins level," he said. "So, we speculated that physical activity increased the expression of BDNF, leading to a decrease in somatic symptoms."

Langaee said the study's results were significant, but a larger sample size and more genetic testing is needed to better determine the effect of physical activity on these genes.

Dotson said the study provides evidence that physical activity could be explored as an intervention for depression, but warns that this study was not done in people whose symptoms were severe enough to be formally diagnosed with clinical depression. She said it's also important to understand the benefits of exercise because of the impact medications may have on the brains of older adults.

"I'm trying to understand how exercise versus antidepressants affect the brain," Dotson said. "The next step for me is to understand from a brain standpoint who is going to benefit and how exercise is going to be beneficial in addition to or as an alternative to medication."

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160427150916.htm

Using exercise to reduce glutamate build-up in the brain

Exercise could reduce symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington's disease

May 17, 2016

Science Daily/Canadian Science Publishing (NRC Research Press)
Exercise has the potential to decrease toxic build-up in the brain, reducing the severity of brain disorders such as Huntington's disease, report scientists.

In a new study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, scientists from the University of Guelph have found that exercise has the potential to decrease toxic build-up in the brain, reducing the severity of brain disorders such as Huntington's disease.

Glutamate, an amino acid that is one of the twenty amino acids used to construct proteins, is used by the brain to transmit signals, but too much glutamate blocks future signals and can lead to toxicity in the brain. Since the majority of the brain relies on glutamate as the main neurotransmitter for communication between neural cells, it is essential that glutamate is reabsorbed and disposed of to prevent blockage. While glutamate reuptake is a normal process for healthy brains, several diseases such as Huntington's disease, ALS, and epilepsy result in either failed reuptake of glutamate or high levels of glutamate in the brain. This can lead to unwanted and in some cases excessive stimulation of neighbouring cells which can worsen the disease.

The findings of this study show that exercise has the potential to increase the use of glutamate in the brain and may help reduce the toxicity caused by glutamate build-up in these diseases. "As we all know, exercise is healthy for the rest of the body and our study suggests that exercise may present an excellent option for reducing the severity of brain disorders" says Dr. Eric Herbst, lead author of the study. "Taking into account that there are no cures for neurodegenerative diseases where glutamate is implicated, this study offers another example of the benefits of exercise for our brains" continued Dr. Herbst. "In short, these findings offer another reason to exercise with the aim of either preventing or slowing the neurodegeneration caused by these disorders."

The findings of this study are of particular importance to other researchers exploring different approaches to treating brain disorders. The main approaches to treating neurodegenerative diseases are hindered by the need to produce drugs that both have the intended effect for treating the disease and are also able to pass the blood brain barrier. Through the use of exercise, the brain can direct glutamate to be used as an energy source to dispose of excess amounts of the neurotransmitter, without relying on the difficult development of pharmaceuticals. Identifying and targeting the mechanisms that increase glutamate metabolism in the brain may also provide the medical field with additional ways of treating problems within the brain. How the findings of this study translates to people affected by neurodegenerative diseases still needs exploring and is an important next step.
Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160517083040.htm

Sleep disorders common in athletes, but easily fixable

May 19, 2016

Science Daily/University of Eastern Finland
Professional athletes suffer from sleep disorders more frequently than generally thought, however, systematic examination, counseling and individual treatment planning can improve the quality of their sleep. A new Finnish study clearly shows for the first time that systematic measures can improve the sleep of professional athletes.
The study carried out by the University of Eastern Finland and Oivauni Sleep Clinic analysed the sleep of 107 professional athletes through a survey. All athletes were provided with general guidance on how to sleep better. In addition, those athletes who on the basis of the survey suffered from significant sleeping disorders were referred to a sleep specialist for examination and an individualised treatment plan.

The study found that one in four athletes suffered from significant sleeping disorders such as trouble falling asleep, snoring or sleep-disordered breathing. In addition, most athletes slept too little and one in six used sleeping pills that helped them to fall asleep or stay asleep on a regular basis during the playing season. All athletes regarded a good night's sleep as an important factor for their health, and one in four reported that the sleeping-related guidance had also enhanced their athletic performance. The study showed that general sleeping-related guidance, further examinations when necessary and a personalised treatment plan significantly improved athletes' sleep.

"Sleep to succeed," says Docent Henri Tuomilehto, a sleep specialist and the leader of the study.

He says that in order to reach the top, one needs to be talented, to train hard and to recover. "Good recovery calls for a good night's sleep." Restorative sleep may be regarded as a cornerstone for athletes' successful recovery and performance.

Only a little scientific research has been conducted on athletes' sleep; however, earlier studies, too, have reported sleeping disorders.

Over the past four years, Tuomilehto has been in charge of the sleep of more than 500 Finnish professional athletes, most recently working with Finland's leading football team HJK and ice-hockey team Jokerit, athletes aiming at the Rio 2016 Olympics, and cross-country skiers aiming at the Lahti 2017 World Championships.

Sleeping disorders are so widespread, not only in athletes but also in the general population, that they are nowadays considered a common chronic disease.

"Solid research evidence of the adverse effects of sleeping disorders on our health and our ability to function exists, and this calls for action," Tuomilehto says. He is one of the few sleep specialists focusing exclusively on patients suffering from sleeping disorders in Finland.

An earlier study led by Tuomilehto was the first in the world to demonstrate the benefits of healthy lifestyle habits in the treatment of sleep apnoea.. The findings resulted in the updating of treatment recommendations worldwide.
Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160519082056.htm

Chronic sleep restriction negatively affects athletic performance

Findings suggest sleep loss results in decreased peak power and endurance performance, as well as decreased response speed

June 13, 2016

Science Daily/American Academy of Sleep Medicine
A new study found that chronic sleep restriction negatively affects athletic performance. Results show that following sleep restriction, energy expenditure during submaximal exercise decreased 3.9 percent; maximal aerobic power decreased 2.9 percent and time to exhaustion decreased by 10.7 percent (37 seconds). Submaximal heart rate decreased after sleep restriction, as well as peak heart rate and Psychomotor Vigilance Test response speed.

Results show that following sleep restriction, energy expenditure during submaximal exercise decreased 3.9 percent; maximal aerobic power decreased 2.9 percent and time to exhaustion decreased by 10.7 percent (37 seconds). Submaximal heart rate decreased after sleep restriction, as well as peak heart rate and Psychomotor Vigilance Test response speed.

"Our study is unique since we examined the relationship between sleep, physical performance, cognitive functioning, and physiology simultaneously," said lead investigator, Cheri Mah, MS, Clinical and Translational Research Fellow with the University of California, San Francisco Human Performance Center. "Future studies are needed to better understand the physiologic responses to sleep restriction, and conversely sleep extension, to understand the dose response of sleep interventions on performance and health."

The late-breaking research abstract will be presented Monday, June 13, in Denver at SLEEP 2016, the 30th Anniversary Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC (APSS).

The randomized crossover study involved 12 healthy elite male cyclists who restricted sleep to 4 hours for three days or extended sleep to 10 hours for two weeks. Cyclists completed a baseline week of habitual sleep and a 2-week washout period in between interventions. Outcome measures pre and post intervention included: a 20-minute submaximal test, a 1-minute incremental maximal exercise test, and a maximal time to exhaustion test on a bicycle ergometer and metabolic collection system as well as the Psychomotor Vigilance Test.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160613130709.htm

 

Exercise can help adults better cope with ADHD symptoms

June 16, 2016

Science Daily/University of Georgia
Exercise, even a small amount, can help alleviate symptoms of ADHD in adults, according to a new study. About 6 percent of American adults report symptoms consistent with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, which lead to anxiety, depression, low energy and motivation, poor performance at work or school and also increased traffic accidents.
https://images.sciencedaily.com/2016/06/160616141350_1_540x360.jpg
Patrick O'Connor (left) found that exercise, even a small amount, can help alleviate symptoms of ADHD in adults.
Credit: University of Georgia

The study, released this month in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, found a single bout of exercise has psychological benefits for adults with these elevated ADHD symptoms. About 6 percent of American adults report symptoms consistent with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, which lead to anxiety, depression, low energy and motivation, poor performance at work or school and also increased traffic accidents.

"Exercise is already known as a stress reducer and mood booster, so it really has the potential to help those suffering with ADHD symptoms," said the study's senior author Patrick O'Connor, professor in the UGA College of Education's kinesiology department. "And while prescription drugs can be used to treat these symptoms, there's an increased risk of abuse or dependence and negative side effects. Those risks don't exist with exercise."

The study tested 32 young men with elevated ADHD symptoms who cycled at a moderate intensity for 20 minutes on one day, and on another day sat and rested for 20 minutes as a control condition. The participants were asked to perform a task requiring focus both before and after the different conditions, and researchers noted leg movement, mood, attention and self-reported motivation to perform the task.

As a result, researchers found that it was only after the exercise when the participants felt motivated to do the task; they also felt less confused and fatigued and instead felt more energetic. Interestingly, leg movements and performance on the task did not change after the exercise--rather, the exercise helped the young men feel better about doing the task.

These findings are consistent with prior research that shows a single bout of exercise helps people feel more energetic, said O'Connor, who is also co-director of the UGA Exercise Psychology Laboratory. The results suggest that young men who have symptoms of ADHD can benefit psychologically from the short workouts, similar to the benefits enjoyed by typical adults who work out.

"The reduced feelings of confusion and increased motivation to perform a cognitive task suggest that other types of acute exercise also may benefit cognitive performance," added study co-author Kathryn Fritz, a UGA doctoral student who completed the study as part of her master's thesis. "We speculate that a different mode or duration or intensity of exercise, other than a boring cycle ride in a sterile lab, may show larger cognitive effects for those suffering from ADHD symptoms."

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160616141350.htm

Need to remember something? Exercise four hours later!

June 16, 2016


Science Daily/Cell Press
A new study suggests an intriguing strategy to boost memory for what you've just learned: hit the gym four hours later. The findings show that physical exercise after learning improves memory and memory traces, but only if the exercise is done in a specific time window and not immediately after learning.
https://images.sciencedaily.com/2016/06/160616140717_1_540x360.jpg
Researchers found that people who exercised four hours after learning new material retained the information better two days later than those who exercised either immediately or not at all.
Credit: © UBER IMAGES / Fotolia
"It shows that we can improve memory consolidation by doing sports after learning," says Guillén Fernández of the Donders Institute at the Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

In the new study, Fernández, along with Eelco van Dongen and their colleagues, tested the effects of a single session of physical exercise after learning on memory consolidation and long-term memory. Seventy-two study participants learned 90 picture-location associations over a period of approximately 40 minutes before being randomly assigned to one of three groups: one group performed exercise immediately, the second performed exercise four hours later, and the third did not perform any exercise. The exercise consisted of 35 minutes of interval training on an exercise bike at an intensity of up to 80 percent of participants' maximum heart rates. Forty-eight hours later, participants returned for a test to show how much they remembered while their brains were imaged via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The researchers found that those who exercised four hours after their learning session retained the information better two days later than those who exercised either immediately or not at all. The brain images also showed that exercise after a time delay was associated with more precise representations in the hippocampus, an area important to learning and memory, when an individual answered a question correctly.

"Our results suggest that appropriately timed physical exercise can improve long-term memory and highlight the potential of exercise as an intervention in educational and clinical settings," the researchers conclude.

It's not yet clear exactly how or why delayed exercise has this effect on memory. However, earlier studies of laboratory animals suggest that naturally occurring chemical compounds in the body known as catecholamines, including dopamine and norepinephrine, can improve memory consolidation, the researchers say. One way to boost catecholamines is through physical exercise.

Fernández says they will now use a similar experimental setup to study the timing and molecular underpinnings of exercise and its influence on learning and memory in more detail.
Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160616140717.htm

English football performance impaired by mental fatigue

Professional footballers and their coaches often complain about the mental fatigue induced by the stress of frequent matches

June 16, 2016

Science Daily/University of Kent
Research has demonstrated for the first time that mental fatigue can have a negative impact on football performance by reducing running, passing, and shooting ability.

Now research from the University of Kent has demonstrated for the first time that mental fatigue can have a negative impact on football performance by reducing running, passing, and shooting ability.

Professor Samuele Marcora of Kent's School of Sport and Exercise Sciences worked with researchers from the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia, and Ghent University in Belgium on the study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise.

This research consisted of two separate studies. In both studies, mental fatigue was induced experimentally by asking footballers to perform a mentally demanding computerised task for 30 minutes. In study 1, the physical performance of 12 footballers was assessed by measuring how far they run in a shuttle running test. In study 2, the technical performance of 14 footballers was measured using validated passing and shooting tests.

Footballers in study 1 perceived running to be harder when mentally fatigued despite similar heart rate, and ran significantly less compared to the control condition (no mental fatigue). In study 2, footballers made significantly more passing mistakes in the mental fatigue condition. Mental fatigue also impaired shot speed and shot accuracy.

The authors concluded that strategies to minimize mental fatigue should be developed and implemented in order to optimize the performance of football players during stressful competitions like EURO 2016.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160616105920.htm

Elite cyclists are more resilient to mental fatigue

July 26, 2016

Science Daily/University of Kent
As British cyclist Chris Froome celebrates his third Tour de France victory, research shows for the first time that elite endurance athletes have superior ability to resist mental fatigue. The new finding showed that while the recreational cyclists slowed down after performing a computerized cognitive task to induce mental fatigue, the professional cyclists' time trial performance was not affected.

Professor Samuele Marcora, Director of Research in Kent's School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, co-authored a report in the journal PLOS ONE entitled Superior Inhibitory Control and Resistance to Mental Fatigue in Professional Road Cyclists.

For the study, Professor Marcora and colleagues compared the performance of 11 professional cyclists and nine recreational cyclists in various tests. As expected, the professional cyclists outperformed the recreational cyclists in a simulated time trial in the laboratory. The new finding was that while the recreational cyclists slowed down after performing a computerised cognitive task to induce mental fatigue, the professional cyclists' time trial performance was not affected.

In addition, the professional cyclists performed better than the recreational cyclists in the computerised cognitive task which measure 'inhibitory control' or willpower. This is not surprising as the ability to suffer is a major factor in the sport of cycling .

Professor Marcora, says that the two effects go hand in hand, because becoming resistant to mental fatigue should bolster willpower during the latter stages of a competition such as the Tour de France.

Although largely hereditary, he speculates that superior willpower and resistance to mental fatigue may be trained through hard physical training and the demanding lifestyle of elite endurance athletes. Professor Marcora is also developing, in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence, a new training method (Brain Endurance Training) to boost resistance to mental fatigue and endurance performance even further.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160726123214.htm

Exercise results in larger brain size and lowered dementia risk

August 2, 2016

Science Daily/University of California - Los Angeles Health Sciences
Regular physical activity for older adults could lead to higher brain volumes and a reduced risk for developing dementia. It particularly affected the size of the hippocampus, which controls short-term memory, and its protective effect against dementia was strongest in people age 75 and older

Using the landmark Framingham Heart Study to assess how physical activity affects the size of the brain and one's risk for developing dementia, UCLA researchers found an association between low physical activity and a higher risk for dementia in older individuals. This suggests that regular physical activity for older adults could lead to higher brain volumes and a reduced risk for developing dementia.

The researchers found that physical activity particularly affected the size of the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain controlling short-term memory. Also, the protective effect of regular physical activity against dementia was strongest in people age 75 and older.

Though some previous studies have found an inverse relationship between levels of physical activity and cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer's disease, others have failed to find such an association. The Framingham study was begun in 1948 primarily as a way to trace factors and characteristics leading to cardiovascular disease, but also examining dementia and other physiological conditions. For this study, the UCLA researchers followed an older, community-based cohort from the Framingham study for more than a decade to examine the association between physical activity and the risk for incident dementia and subclinical brain MRI markers of dementia.

The researchers assessed the physical activity indices for both the original Framingham cohort and their offspring who were age 60 and older. They examined the association between physical activity and risk of any form of dementia (regardless of the cause) and Alzheimer's disease for 3,700 participants from both cohorts who were cognitively intact. They also examined the association between physical activity and brain MRI in about 2,000 participants from the offspring cohort.

What this all means: one is never too old to exercise for brain health and to stave off the risk for developing dementia.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160802103723.htm

Believe it or not: Exercise does more good if you believe it will

August 11, 2016

Science Daily/Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
People benefit more from exercise when they believe it will have a positive effect, new research indicates. A psychologist and his team have conducted a study demonstrating that test subjects derive more psychological as well as neurophysiological benefits from exercise if they already have positive mindsets about sports. Moreover, the team provided evidence that test subjects can be positively or negatively influenced in this regard before engaging in the exercise.

Everyone knows exercise is supposed to be good for your health, but is the belief that exercise will have a positive effect more important for our well-being than the exercise itself? The psychologist Hendrik Mothes from the University of Freiburg's Department of Sport Science and his team have conducted a study demonstrating that test subjects derive more psychological as well as neurophysiological benefits from exercise if they already have positive mindsets about sports. Moreover, the team provided evidence that test subjects can be positively or negatively influenced in this regard before engaging in the exercise. The study was published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

The researchers invited 76 men and women aged between 18 and 32 years to their research laboratory, where they had to exercise for 30 minutes on a bicycle ergometer. Beforehand, the test subjects were separated into different groups and shown one of several short films that either praised the positive effects of cycling on health or not. In addition, the researchers asked the test subjects whether they had already believed in the positive effects of physical activity before beginning the study. The participants filled out questionnaires asking them about their well-being and their mood before and after the exercise. Moreover, the researchers measured the participants' brain activity with an electroencephalogram (EEG).

"The results demonstrate that our belief in how much we will benefit from physical activity has a considerable effect on our well-being in the manner of a self-fulfilling prophecy," sums up Mothes. The results provide evidence for a placebo effect during exercise: Test subjects who already believed the physical activity would have positive effects before participating in the study enjoyed the exercise more, improved their mood more, and reduced their anxiety more than less optimistic test subjects. In addition, the study revealed a neurophysiological difference between the test subjects: According to the measurements of brain activity, the participants with greater expectations before the beginning of the study and those who had seen a film about the health benefits of cycling beforehand were more relaxed on a neuronal level.

The results likely also apply to other endurance sports like jogging, swimming, or cross-country skiing, reports Mothes. "Beliefs and expectations could possibly have long-term consequences, for instance on our motivation to engage in sports. They can be a determining factor on whether we can rouse ourselves to go jogging again next time or decide instead to stay at home on the couch." The psychologist is now working on his next project. He aims to study further effects of mindsets and investigate the question of whether and how they influence the experience of exertion during physical activity.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160811090039.htm

The golfer's steady gaze

August 19, 2016

Science Daily/Universitaet Bielefeld
Researchers are investigating motor learning by studying the golfer's steady gaze. Not only can the researchers measure what advantages professionals have over novices: in their studies, they are also testing training concepts that can be used by golfers to optimize how they perform their movements on the green.
https://images.sciencedaily.com/2016/08/160819084629_1_540x360.jpg
The gaze of a professional golfer rests on the ball for up to three seconds before he takes a swing. The screen shows where exactly the golfer’s gaze falls.
Credit: CITEC/Bielefeld University

For the first time in 112 years, golf is again an Olympic event. Olympic golfers hone the skills to ensure their accuracy not only with practical training, but also with mental exercises. Researchers at the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology at Bielefeld University are investigating the question of how the brain of a professional golfer works in comparison to that of a novice. Not only can the researchers measure what advantages professionals have over novices: in their studies, they are also testing training concepts that can be used by golfers to optimize how they perform their movements on the green.

"One characteristic in particular that distinguishes professional athletes is that they use the 'Quiet Eye' technique -- whether consciously or unconsciously," says Professor Dr. Thomas Schack. The sports scientist and cognitive psychologist heads the "Neurocognition and Action -- Biomechanics" research group at the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC). The idea behind this concept of the so-called Quiet Eye is that of the stead gaze: before an athlete makes a move, he directs his gaze at an important point. In golf, this is the ball. "The Quiet Eye stands for that moment when the brain is planning the forthcoming motor action," says Thomas Schack.

The role played by the Quiet Eye can be seen, for instance, when a golfer putts, meaning he takes the last swing that is meant to land the ball in the hole. The golfer first executes a backswing before striking the ball with a forward stroke. As the golfer readies himself to take the backswing, his eyes are already fixed on the golf ball -- and his eyes remain glued on the ball even after hitting it. "Our research confirms that professionals focus on the ball longer than novices. When taking a putt, this occurs for up to three seconds," says Thomas Schack, who adds that the more difficult the task, the longer the golfer maintains his visual focus on the ball.

In their learning studies, Schack's research group tests how golf novices can best memorize the sequences of motion in the game of golf and the impressions associated with them. Is this better accomplished by physical practice -- actually performing the movements -- or by mental practice, that is, by imagining the sequences of motion in one's head? In one study conducted by the sports scientist Dr. Cornelia Frank, 45 people practiced their golf putts over three days: one group only did physical pracitce, and the second group did both physical and mental practice (combined practice). During the mental practice, the study participants were instructed to mentally rehearse a putt. The study participants were told to vividly imagine what they see, feel, and hear from their own perspective before, during, and after striking the ball. This mental training exercise was repeated ten times on each of the three days.

A pair of eye-tracking glasses recorded both before and after the training whether -- or how long -- the study participants fixated with their eyes on the ball. In addition to the golfer's gaze, Cornelia Frank also recorded the study subjects' putts and evaluated how proper the pattern of movement was stored in their memory. At the end, she compared both groups: how did the golfers' gaze (the Quiet Eye), participants' knowledge of movement representations, and the execution of golf movements change?

A key finding was that "the combined training contributed to a longer duration of visual fixation on the ball. The gaze thus remained focused longer on the ball both before and after the decisive swing -- similar to professional golfers," explains Frank. At the same time, the mental practice also ensured that the participants' movements were stored more accurately in memory. "Their movement representations in memory shifted more significantly towards that of a professional golfer's," explains the sports scientist. "We could show that the duration of Quiet Eye is directly linked to the motion imagery stored in their memory." The study also showed that the purely physical practice had less of an impact on the duration of the visual fixation.

A new study is aimed at establishing the relationship between memory activity and the Quiet Eye. For his master's thesis, golfer Daniel Boxberger is pursuing the assumption: "Particularly at the moment when the Quiet Eye takes place, there is a lot of information being processed in order to adapt the upcoming movement to the situation." In his learning study, which has been running since late June 2016, Boxberger is measuring how the pupils dilate both before and after practice. Based on these results, the researchers can make inferences about the mental demands of the activity because "the more dilated the pupil is at the moment of the Quiet Eye, the greater the mental load," explains Frank, who is supervising Boxberger's thesis.

With the findings from their studies, CITEC researchers can, in the future, more reliably determine how well golfers have learned a new motion sequence. To do this, they are also using virtual reality technology, and want to investigate the role of the Quiet Eye in the virtual coaching space "ICSpace." Among the developments created by the "Neurocognition and Action -- Biomechanics" research group is a software that determines how well golfers and other athletes have mastered relevant techniques by measuring movement representations in memory. The research group has been working together with golf coaches and golfers from various performance classes for approximately ten years.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160819084629.htm

Use it or lose it: Stopping exercise decreases brain blood flow

August 29, 2016

Science Daily/University of Maryland
Researchers examined cerebral blood flow in master athletes (ages 50-80 years) before and after a 10-day period during which they stopped all exercise. Using MRI brain imaging techniques, they found a significant decrease in blood flow to several brain regions important for cognitive health, including the hippocampus, after they stopped their exercise routines.

We all know that we can quickly lose cardiovascular endurance if we stop exercising for a few weeks, but what impact does the cessation of exercise have on our brains? New research led by University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers examined cerebral blood flow in healthy, physically fit older adults (ages 50-80 years) before and after a 10-day period during which they stopped all exercise. Using MRI brain imaging techniques, they found a significant decrease in blood flow to several brain regions, including the hippocampus, after they stopped their exercise routines.

"We know that the hippocampus plays an important role in learning and memory and is one of the first brain regions to shrink in people with Alzheimer's disease," says Dr. J. Carson Smith, associate professor of kinesiology and lead author of the study, which is published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience in August 2016. "In rodents, the hippocampus responds to exercise training by increasing the growth of new blood vessels and new neurons, and in older people, exercise can help protect the hippocampus from shrinking. So, it is significant that people who stopped exercising for only 10 days showed a decrease in brain blood flow in brain regions that are important for maintaining brain health."

The study participants were all "master athletes," defined as people between the ages of 50 and 80 (average age was 61) who have at least 15 years history of participating in endurance exercise and who have recently competed in an endurance event. Their exercise regimens must have entailed at least four hours of high intensity endurance training each week. On average, they were running ~36 miles (59 km) each week or the equivalent of a 10K run a day! Not surprisingly, this group had a V02 max above 90% for their age. This is a measure of the maximal rate of oxygen consumption of an individual and reflects their aerobic physical fitness.

Dr. Smith and colleagues measured the velocity of blood flow in brain with an MRI scan while they were still following their regular training routine (at peak fitness) and again after 10 days of no exercise. They found that resting cerebral blood flow significantly decreased in eight brain regions, including the areas of the left and right hippocampus and several regions known to be part of the brain's "default mode network" -- a neural network known to deteriorate quickly with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. This information adds to the growing scientific understanding of the impact of physical activity on cognitive health.

"We know that if you are less physically active, you are more likely to have cognitive problems and dementia as you age," says Dr. Smith. "However, we did not find any evidence that cognitive abilities worsened after stopping exercising for just 10 days. But the take home message is simple -- if you do stop exercising for 10 days, just as you will quickly lose your cardiovascular fitness, you will also experience a decrease in blood brain flow."

Dr. Smith believes that this could have important implications for brain health in older adults, and points to the need for more research to understand how fast these changes occur, what the long term effects could be, and how fast they could be reversed when exercise is resumed.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160829140440.htm

A new exercise partner is the key to exercising more

October 4, 2016

Science Daily/University of Aberdeen
Researchers have been investigating whether having an exercise companion increases the amount of exercise we do. Researchers found that finding a new exercise companion increased the amount of exercise people took. This was increased even more when the new partner was emotionally supportive.

The study reported that finding a new exercise companion increased the amount of exercise people took. This was increased even more when the new partner was emotionally supportive.

This is the first study to investigate the benefits of a new exercise companion and to look into the specific qualities in a partner that make a good gym buddy.

Dr Pamela Rackow from the Institute of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Aberdeen gathered the data whilst at the University of Zurich. Dr Rackow and her team asked half of the participants to find a new 'gym buddy' and the other half continued with their normal routine. The results showed that the group who found a new exercise partner exercised more than those who followed their regular exercise routine.

Dr Rackow said: "The idea of this study was to test in a very natural setting what is happening when two people get together with the aim to exercise more. I had read motivation tips in a leaflet that suggested that having an exercise companion would help me to exercise more but I wanted to know if this was true.

"This study is unique in that it reflects natural life relatively well because when you decide to exercise with a friend -- you ask someone in your normal social network regardless of whether they fit certain criteria or not. "

The team were also interested in what qualities makes a good partner. They asked participants to rate how supportive their partners are and what kind of support was most effective.

They divided support into two types, emotional and instrumental. They found that people exercised more when their companion offered emotional support and encouragement and rather than practical support like never missing a session.

Dr Rackow added: "Once we found that having a new exercise companion increases exercise frequency we wanted to find out why this is beneficial and what quality of support they offer that has this effect. Our results showed that the emotional social support from the new sports companion was the most effective. Thus, it is more important to encourage each other than doing the actual activity together. "

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161004081548.htm

Your fingers show your athletic potential and anxiety

October 12, 2016

Science Daily/The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
By comparing your index and ring fingers, a neuroscientist can tell if you are likely to be anxious, or if you are likely to be a good athlete.
    
Both women and men with this characteristic are -- on average -- better equipped to solve mentally demanding 3D rotation tasks as adults. As a group, they also have better physical and athletic abilities, but are more prone to having ADHD and Tourette's syndrome.

Why on earth is this the case? Both boys and girls are exposed to testosterone in the womb. Everyone has different levels of male and female sex hormones. Some men have a lot of testosterone, some have less, and the same applies to women. Women who have received a lot of prenatal testosterone don't need much testosterone as adults.

The level of testosterone in utero affects one's finger length as an adult.

24 women and a drop of testosterone

"The relationship between the index finger and ring finger in particular indicates how much testosterone you have been exposed to in utero," says Carl Pintzka, a medical doctor and researcher at the National Competence Service for Functional MRI.

In his doctoral dissertation at NTNU, Pintzka investigated how the brain functions differently in women and men. As part of this study, he tested an established theory about the significance of finger length and how the brain works.

He measured the finger length of 42 women and gave half of them a drop of testosterone. The other half were given a placebo. Afterwards, the women had to solve various mental tasks.

Short index finger, more testosterone

"We could then look at how testosterone levels affect different abilities in healthy women both in the womb and in adulthood," says Pintzka.

An index finger that is relatively short compared to the ring finger indicates that one has been exposed to a lot of testosterone in utero, whereas a relatively long index finger suggests a lower exposure to testosterone in the womb.

"One mechanism behind this relationship is the difference in the receptor density for oestrogen and testosterone in the various fingers in utero. This relationship has also been shown to remain relatively stable after birth, which implies that it's strictly the fetal hormone balance that determines this ratio," says Pintzka.

More testosterone, better sense of place

The relationship between the index finger and ring finger in humans is associated with a variety of abilities in adulthood.

"The greatest effect has been found for various physical and athletic measures, where high levels of prenatal testosterone are consistently linked with better capabilities," Pintzka says. "Beyond this we find a number of uncertain results, but a general feature is that high levels of testosterone generally correlate with superior abilities on tasks that men usually perform better, such as various spatial tasks like directional sense," he adds.

Conversely, low levels of testosterone are associated with better abilities in verbal memory tasks, such as remembering lists of words. Fetal hormonal balance also likely affects the risk of developing various brain-related diseases.

… but also more ADHD and autism

Pintzka says studies show that high levels of testosterone in utero correlate with an increased risk of developing diseases that are more common in men, such as ADHD, Tourette's and autism. Low levels of testosterone are associated with an increased risk of developing diseases that are more common in women, like anxiety and depression.

His study primarily involved researching how testosterone affects different spatial abilities in women. The women were asked to navigate a virtual maze, and to mentally rotate different three-dimensional objects.

More study needed According to Pintzka, the study results indicate a trend towards a positive effect of high testosterone levels on spatial abilities in utero. He believes that a larger study would be able to show a significant correlation. Furthermore, the results suggest that these hormone levels are important both in utero and in adulthood.

In other words, no definite conclusions can be drawn quite yet. Pintzka found no prenatal hormonal effects on study participants' ability to navigate a virtual maze.

"The women who scored best on the mental rotation tasks had high levels of testosterone both prenatally and in their adult lives, while those who scored worst had low levels in both," says Pintzka.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161012095619.htm

Want to exercise more? Get yourself some competition

New research finds that competition pushes people to exercise far better than friendly support

October 27, 2016

Science Daily/University of Pennsylvania
Competition is a far stronger motivation for exercise than friendly support, and in fact, giving people such support actually made them less likely to go to the gym less than simply leaving them alone, new research indicates.

Imagine you're a CEO trying to get your employees to exercise. Most health incentive programs have an array of tools -- pamphlets, websites, pedometers, coaching, team activities, step challenges, money -- but what actually motivates people? Is it social support? Competition? Teamwork? Corporate leaders often try a little bit of everything.

A new study published in the journal Preventative Medicine Reports from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania found these efforts should hone in on one area: Competition. It was a far stronger motivation for exercise than friendly support, and in fact, giving people such support actually made them less likely to go to the gym less than simply leaving them alone.

"Most people think that when it comes to social media more is better," says Damon Centola, an associate professor in Penn's Annenberg School and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and senior author on the paper. "This study shows that isn't true: When social media is used the wrong way, adding social support to an online health program can backfire and make people less likely to choose healthy behaviors. However, when done right, we found that social media can increase people's fitness dramatically."

For this research, Centola and Jingwen Zhang, Ph.D., lead paper author and recent Annenberg graduate, recruited nearly 800 Penn graduate and professional students to sign up for an 11-week exercise program called "PennShape." The federally funded, university-wide fitness initiative created by Centola and Zhang provided Penn students with weekly exercise classes in the University fitness center, fitness mentoring, and nutrition advice, all managed through a website the researchers built. After program completion, the students who attended the most exercise classes for activities like running, spinning, yoga, and weight lifting, among others, won prizes.

What the participants didn't know was that the researchers had split them into four groups to test how different kinds of social networks affected their exercise levels. The four groups were: individual competition, team support, team competition, and a control group.

In the individual group, participants could see exercise leaderboards listing anonymous program members, and earned prizes based on their own success attending classes. For each team group, participants were assigned to a unit. In the team support group, they could chat online and encourage team members to exercise, with rewards going to the most successful teams with the most class attendance. In addition, those in the team competition group could see a leaderboard of other teams and their team standing. Participants in the control group could use the website and go to any class, but were not given any social connections on the website; prizes in this group were based on individual success taking classes.

Overwhelmingly, competition motivated participants to exercise the most, with attendance rates 90% higher in the competitive groups than in the control group. Both team and individual competition equally drove the students to work out, with participants in the former taking a mean of 38.5 classes a week and those in the latter taking 35.7. Members of the control group went to the gym far less often, on average 20.3 times a week.

The biggest surprise came in the number of workouts a week by members of the team support group: Just 16.8, on average -- half the exercise rate of the competitive groups.

"Framing the social interaction as a competition can create positive social norms for exercising," Zhang says, now an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis. "Social support can make people more dependent on receiving messages, which can change the focus of the program."

How organizations use social media can affect how receptive people are to online signals, explains Centola, an expert on social networks and diffusion.

"Supportive groups can backfire because they draw attention to members who are less active, which can create a downward spiral of participation," Centola says. In the competitive groups, however, people who exercise the most give off the loudest signal. "Competitive groups frame relationships in terms of goal-setting by the most active members. These relationships help to motivate exercise because they give people higher expectations for their own levels of performance."

Competition triggers a social ratcheting-up process, he adds. "In a competitive setting, each person's activity raises the bar for everyone else. Social support is the opposite: a ratcheting-down can happen. If people stop exercising, it gives permission for others to stop, too, and the whole thing can unravel fairly quickly."

The positive effects of social competition go beyond exercise, to encouraging healthy behaviors such as medication compliance, diabetes control, smoking cessation, flu vaccinations, weight loss, and preventative screening, as well as pro-social behaviors like voting, recycling, and lowering power consumption.

"Social media is a powerful tool because it can give people new kinds of social influences right in their own home," Centola says. "Lifestyle changes are hard to make, but if you can give people the right kinds of social tools to help them do it, there's a lot of good that can be done at relatively little cost."

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161027122554.htm

Athletic performance linked to mortality

November 1, 2016
Science Daily/University of Arizona
A study's participants who were asked to think about their own death before taking to the basketball court scored more points than those in a control group.
https://images.sciencedaily.com/2016/11/161101103242_1_540x360.jpg
UA doctoral students Colin Zestcott (left) and Uri Lifshin (right) conducted two studies showing that athletes are subconsciously motivated by reminders of death. The skull shirt worn by Lifshin served as one of those reminders.
Credit: University of Arizona

It's not the locker room pep talk you'd expect, but new research from the University of Arizona suggests that athletes might perform better when reminded of something a bit grim: their impending death.

In two studies, the results of which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, basketball-playing participants scored more points after being presented with death-related prompts, either direct questions about their own mortality or a more subtle, visual reminder of death.

Researchers say the improved performance is the result of a subconscious effort to boost self-esteem, which is a protective buffer against fear of death, according to psychology's terror management theory.

"Terror management theory talks about striving for self-esteem and why we want to accomplish things in our lives and be successful," said UA psychology doctoral student Uri Lifshin, co-lead investigator of the research. "Everybody has their own thing in which they invest that is their legacy and symbolic immortality."

The reason people don't live in constant fear of their inevitable death is because they have this system to help them deal with it, Lifshin said.

"Your subconscious tries to find ways to defeat death, to make death not a problem, and the solution is self-esteem," he said. "Self-esteem gives you a feeling that you're part of something bigger, that you have a chance for immortality, that you have meaning, that you're not just a sack of meat."

Participants in the studies were male college students who indicated that they enjoy playing basketball and care about their performance in the sport. None of them played for a formal college basketball team.

"Our idea was that the study effect should only work for people who are motivated to perform well in sports. For individuals that derive less self-esteem from sport, whether they win or lose shouldn't matter as much," said UA doctoral student Colin Zestcott, the other lead investigator.

The Proof Is on the Court

In the first study, 31 participants played a pair of one-on-one basketball games with Zestcott, who posed as another study participant. In between the two games, which lasted about seven minutes each, participants were randomly assigned questionnaires to complete.

Some participants received packets that included prompts about death: "Please briefly describe the emotions that the thought of your own death arouses in you," and, "Jot down, as specifically as you can, what you think will happen to you as you physically die and once you are physically dead."

Others were asked instead to think about playing basketball: "Please briefly describe the emotions that the thought of playing basketball arouses in you," and, "Jot down, as specifically as you can, what you think will happen to you as you play basketball."

The questions were followed by several delay tasks to allow death thoughts to work outside of conscious attention. Researchers were blind to which prompts each player received.

Those asked about death improved their personal performance in the second game by 40 percent, while those asked about basketball saw no change in performance.

Those who thought about death also performed 20 percent better as a whole in the second game than those in the other group. Before the questionnaires, the performance of both groups was roughly even.

"When we're threatened with death, we're motivated to regain that protective sense of self-esteem, and when you like basketball and you're out on the basketball court, winning and performing well is the ultimate way to gain self-esteem," Lifshin said.

The researchers' second study looked at how participants performed in an individual basket-shooting challenge when presented with a more subtle reminder of death.

For the study, Lifshin wore a black T-shirt emblazoned with a large white skull, made up of several iterations of the word "death."

Study participants were brought one-at-a-time onto the court, where Lifshin gave each person a 30-second description of the challenge and rules. He wore the skull T-shirt in front of half of the participants. With the other half, he had his jacket zipped up to cover the shirt. A coin flip was used to randomly determine which participants saw the skull.

Participants then completed a one-minute basket-shooting challenge, in which they could score one point for a layup, two points from the free-throw line and three points from the three-point line. To ensure that they kept moving, they were told they couldn't attempt the same types of shots back-to-back. They were scored by a different experimenter, who didn't know who saw the shirt.

Participants who saw the shirt outperformed those who did not by approximately 30 percent. They also attempted more shots -- an average of 11.85 per minute versus an average of 8.33 by those who did not see the shirt.

"They took more shots, better shots, and they hustled more and ran faster," Lifshin said.

UA psychology professor Jeff Greenberg, one of the originators of terror management theory, said the research provides important new support for the theory.

"We've known from many studies that reminders of death arouse a need for terror management and therefore increase self-esteem striving though performance on relatively simple laboratory tasks. However, these experiments are the first to show that activating this motivation can influence performance on complex, real-world behaviors," said Greenberg, who was another co-author of the studies, along with UA psychology doctoral student Peter Helm.
 

Coaches Already Tap Into Death

While it may seem strange that something as dark as death could be motivating, coaches have in some ways intuitively known this for years, the researchers note.

For example, a coach at halftime who says, 'You win this and they'll remember you forever,' plays into the human desire for immortality, Zestcott said.

And while the researchers looked specifically at basketball, they think the effects aren't limited by sport.

"There's no reason why it shouldn't work in soccer as it does in basketball. We don't believe this is sport-specific and we don't believe this is gender-specific," said Zestcott, a former student-athlete who played football as an undergraduate at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Zestcott and Lifshin hope future research might replicate their studies in collegiate or professional athletes and look at other sports, as well as possible effects on team performance.

They say that their findings might be applied in other areas as well.

"This is a potentially untapped way to motivate athletes but also perhaps to motivate people in other realms," Zestcott said. "Outside of sports, we think that this has implications for a range of different performance-related tasks, like people's jobs, so we're excited about the future of this research."
Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161101103242.htm

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