Exercise/Athletic 4

Impact of repetitive heading in soccer needs more research, say experts

February 10, 2014

Science Daily/St. Michael's Hospital

Soccer is the most-popular and fastest-growing sport in the world and, like many contact sports, players are at risk of suffering concussions from collisions on the field.

 

But researchers warned in a paper published today that not enough attention has been given to the unique aspect of soccer -- the purposeful use of the head to control the ball -- and the long-term consequences of repetitive heading.

 

The literature review by Dr. Tom Schweizer, director of the Neuroscience Research Program of St. Michael's Hospital, was published in the journal Brain Injury.

 

More than 265 million people play soccer worldwide, including 27 million in North America. Due to the nature of the sport, players are particularly vulnerable to head and neck injuries. Most are caused by unintentional or unexpected contact, such as when a player collides with teammates, opponents or the playing surface.

 

There is significant concern in the sporting and medical worlds about the potential long-term cognitive and behavioral consequences for athletes who suffer acute or repeat concussions or multiple "sub-concussive" head impacts -- blows to the head not causing symptoms of concussions.

 

"The practice of heading, which might occur thousands of times over a player's career, carries unknown risks, but may uniquely contribute to cognitive decline or impairment in the short- or long-term," said Dr. Schweizer, a neuroscientist. "Thus, soccer players present a unique opportunity to study whether cumulative sub-concussive impacts affect cognitive functioning, similar to that of concussions."

 

Examining research papers that studied the incidence of concussion in soccer, he found that concussions accounted for 5.8 per cent to 8.6 per cent of total injuries sustained during games. One study found that 62.7 per cent of varsity soccer players had suffered symptoms of a concussion during their playing careers, yet only 19.2 per cent realized it. Another found that 81.8 per cent of athletes who had suffered a concussion had experienced two or more and that players with a history of concussion had a 3.15 times greater odds of sustaining another one than those who had never had a concussion. One study found concussions sustained during soccer accounted for 15 per cent of the total number of concussions in all sports. In particular, girls' soccer accounted for 8.2 per cent of sports-related concussions, the second highest sport after football.

 

Research papers that looked at the mechanism of injury found 41.1 per cent of concussions resulted from contact by an elbow, arm or hand to the head. One found that 58.3 per cent of concussions occurred during a heading duel. More females suffered concussions from player-to-surface and player-to-ball contact than males who had more player-to-player contact than females.

 

Defensemen and goalkeepers are at greatest risk of suffering a concussion, the study found. Dr. Schweizer said that for goalkeepers, the risk decreases as they get older and become more aware of where they are at any given time in relation to the goal posts. He said padding goal posts might be one way to reduce concussions in younger players who don't have such a developed sense of spatial relations.

 

Studies on the long-term effects of heading found greater memory, planning and perceptual deficits in forwards and defenders, players who execute more headers. One study found professional players reporting the highest prevalence of heading during their careers did poorest in tests of verbal and visual memory as well as attention. Another found older or retired soccer players were significantly impaired in conceptual thinking, reaction time and concentration. The few studies that used advanced imaging techniques found physical changes to the brains in players who had concussions.

 

Monica Maher, a co-author and University of Toronto master's degree student in neuroscience, said the researchers wanted to emphasize possible injury prevention methods.

 

"Use of protective headgear, limiting heading exposure or stressing proper heading technique in younger children and increasing concussion education are all suggestions to perhaps decrease the incidence of head injury and their subsequent effects in the long run," she said.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140210114538.htm

Strobe Glasses Improve Hockey Players' Performance

Dec. 13, 2013 —

Science Daily/Duke University

Professional hockey players who trained with special eyewear that only allowed them to see action intermittently showed significant improvement in practice drills, according to a Duke University study with the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes.

 

"From a sports perspective, you want to know if something is going to be an actual, viable training tool," said Stephen Mitroff, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in the Duke Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. "If players train with it, will they likely get the benefits? Our previous work showed that stroboscopic training affected vision and attention, and here we explored if those changes can benefit sports performance."

 

Players who trained with the strobe eyewear experienced an 18 percent performance improvement in a series of on-ice skill tests. A control group showed no change.

 

The athletes were randomly divided into a five-player control group that completed normal training and a six-player strobe group that wore the eyewear once daily during normal training. Each group completed a performance assessment before and after training. Forwards were asked to perform a task that involved difficult skating before taking shots on goal, and defensemen were asked to skate in a circle before completing long passes.

 

"That 18-percent improvement for on-ice skills for professional players is huge," Mitroff said. "This is a dramatic improvement observed in professional athletes."

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131213201152.htm

Need inspiration? Let’s get physical!

December 2, 2013

Science Daily/Leiden, Universiteit

People who exercise regularly are better at creative thinking. This is the outcome of research by a cognitive psychologist, as outlined in a recently published article.

 

Taking a stroll

We know that authors like Søren Kierkegaard, Henry James en Thomas Mann used to take a stroll before they sat down behind their writing desk. Apparently, this helped them to get new ideas and insights. But is it possible to prove scientifically that physical exercise makes creative thinking easier?

 

Divergent and convergent

To find this out, Colzato investigated whether regular exercise may promote the two main ingredients of creativity: divergent thinking and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking means to think up as many solutions as possible for a certain problem. Convergent thinking leads to one single correct solution for a given problem.

 

Thinking tasks

The psychologist gave thinking tasks to two groups of test persons: people who do physical exercise at least four times a week -- i.e. cycling -- and people who do not exercise on a regular basis. The first assignment was a so-called alternate uses test, in which the participants had to note down all the possible uses for a pen. This was followed by a remote associates task: the test persons were presented with three non-related words, like 'time', 'hair' and 'stretch', and had to come up with the common link, which in this case was 'long'.

 

Healthy body = sound mind

On the remote associates task, people from the group of frequent exercisers appeared to outperform those who did not exercise regularly. Colzato: 'We think that phsysical movement is good for the ability to think flexibly, but only if the body is used to being active. Otherwise a large part of the energy intended for creative thinking goes to the movement itself.' Colzato believes that these results support the famous classical idea of a 'sound mind in a healthy body': 'Exercising on a regular basis may thus act as a cognitive enhancer promoting creativity in inexpensive and healthy ways.'

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131202082418.htm

Aerobic Fitness, Hormones Predict Recognition Memory in Young Adults

Dec. 2, 2013

Science Daily/Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM)

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have found further evidence that exercise may be beneficial for brain health and cognition. The findings, which are currently available online in Behavioural Brain Research, suggest that certain hormones, which are increased during exercise, may help improve memory.

 

Hormones called growth factors are thought to mediate the relationship between exercise and brain health. The hippocampus, a region of the brain crucial for learning and memory, is thought to be uniquely affected by these hormones.

 

The growth factors brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), have been implicated in the link between exercise and hippocampal function. BDNF, for example, acts on the nervous system to help regulate communication between existing brain cells (neurons) and stimulate the growth and maturation of new hippocampal neurons and blood vessels.

 

In this study, the researchers recruited healthy young adults, in whom they measured blood hormone levels together with performance on a recognition memory task and aerobic fitness. The researchers were thus able to correlate the blood hormone levels with aerobic fitness, and subsequently whether there was any effect on memory function.

 

According to the researchers, BDNF and aerobic fitness predicted memory in an interactive manner, suggesting that at low fitness BDNF levels negatively predicted expected memory accuracy. Conversely, at high fitness resting BDNF levels positively predicted recognition memory. There also was a strong association between IGF-1 and aerobic fitness; however there was no complementary link between IGF-1 and memory function.

 

"We will be continuing this line of research by testing if memory improves following an exercise training program in both young and geriatric adults, and by adding brain imaging techniques," explained Karin Schon, PhD, assistant professor of anatomy and neurobiology at BUSM, who served as the study's principal investigator.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131202162204.htm

Circadian Timing May Give Edge to West Coast NFL Teams in Night Games

Nov. 27, 2013

Science Daily/American Academy of Sleep Medicine

A new analysis of National Football League results suggests that the body's natural circadian timing gives a performance advantage to West Coast teams when they play East Coast teams at night.

 

According to the authors, biological rhythms can determine specific times at which peak performance is likely to occur. Previous studies have shown that elements of athletic performance peak in the late afternoon based on intrinsic circadian factors. Therefore, these night games may provide West Coast teams with an athletic advantage by allowing their players to compete at a body clock time that is closer to their athletic peak than their opponents.

 

"Applying principles of sleep physiology to competitive sports has the clear potential to yield a significant and natural athletic performance advantage," said Smith. "So if you are an athlete looking for a natural performance advantage, or if you just want to improve your health, talk with your doctor about your sleep."

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131127115357.htm

Moderate exercise not only treats, but prevents depression

October 28, 2013

Science Daily/University of Toronto

Physical activity is being increasingly recognized as an effective tool to treat depression. PhD candidate George Mammen's review published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine has taken the connection one step further, finding that moderate exercise can actually prevent episodes of depression in the long term.

 

This is the first longitudinal review to focus exclusively on the role that exercise plays in maintaining good mental health and preventing the onset of depression later in life.

 

Mammen -- who is supervised by Professor Guy Faulkner, a co-author of the review -- analyzed over 26 years' worth of research findings to discover that even low levels of physical activity (walking and gardening for 20-30 minutes a day) can ward off depression in people of all age groups.

 

Mammen's findings come at a time when mental health experts want to expand their approach beyond treating depression with costly prescription medication. "We need a prevention strategy now more than ever," he says. "Our health system is taxed. We need to shift focus and look for ways to fend off depression from the start."

 

Mammen acknowledges that other factors influence a person's likelihood of experiencing depression, including their genetic makeup. But he says that the scope of research he assessed demonstrates that regardless of individual predispositions, there's a clear take-away for everyone. "It's definitely worth taking note that if you're currently active, you should sustain it. If you're not physically active, you should initiate the habit. This review shows promising evidence that the impact of being active goes far beyond the physical."

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131028163003.htm

Working to the beat

October 16, 2013

Science Daily/Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and other research facilities have contributed significantly towards a first explanation for the development of music. Contrary to what was previously suspected, music does not simply distract us when physically working hard by making the work seem a lot easier, but actually the music reduces the effort. This new insight permits on the one hand a conclusion to man's historical development of music, and on the other hand provides an important impulse for the expansion of the therapeutical use of music.

 

Certain genres of music like Blues and Gospel are, in their formation, directly linked to hard physical work. When the slaves toiled in the cotton fields, they sang. When chained prisoners chipped stones in the quarries, they sang, and incorporated the sounds of work into their music. When sportsmen and women want to achieve peak performance they often let themselves be driven by music and occasionally also fans singing and chanting.

 

It has been suspected for a long time now that there must be a correlation between music and bodily exertion, but such a connection with music making has not yet been researched in more depth from a neuroscientific perspective. Up until now we assumed that being active with music would relieve the severely stressed from the self awareness of one's own body -- proprioception -- so that the bodily response to the stress would be simply less clearly perceived. Scientist Tom Fritz is dubious about this simple explanation: "Does this effect of music actually result from the distraction of proprioceptive reactions?"

 

To be able to clarify the question, the scientists developed series of tests in which three different fitness machines were used. In one of the first tests, there were always three participants using the fitness equipment and at the same time passively listening to music. In the second condition, the researchers had prepared the machines so that once the participants began to use them, music would start. During their training, participants would thereby make music interactively. During all conditions the scientists measured metabolic data such as oxygen intake and changes to muscle tension, and they questioned the participants about their sense of exertion.

 

The questioning revealed that the majority of the participants felt the strain less severely while they were producing the music. Coincidently, the measurements revealed that during the music making the muscles used less energy and were therefore more effective physiologically. "This implies that the developed technology is more favourable as a new athletic sports technology, presumably because more emotionally driven motor control occurs with the musical ecstasy," says scientist Thomas Fritz.

 

The trial therefore showed that the participants perceived the exertions at a higher output to be less, and in doing so they still had a more effective muscle activity. "These findings are a breakthrough because they decisively help to understand the therapeutic power of music," explains Thomas Fritz. "What is more, we believe that this insight has an important consequence in how we view the role of music in the creation of human society. Let's consider the fact that a variety of rituals are associated with music. A down-modulating effect of musical activity on exertion could be a yet undiscovered reason for the development of music in humans: Making music makes physical exertion less exhausting."

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131016112613.htm

 

Scientists identify protein linking exercise to brain health

October 10, 2013

Science Daily/Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

A protein that is increased by endurance exercise has been isolated and given to non-exercising mice, in which it turned on genes that promote brain health and encourage the growth of new nerves involved in learning and memory, report scientists from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School.

 

The findings, reported in the journal Cell Metabolism, help explain the well-known capacity of endurance exercise to improve cognitive function, particularly in older people. If the protein can be made in a stable form and developed into a drug, it might lead to improved therapies for cognitive decline in older people and slow the toll of neurodegenerative diseases such Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, according to the investigators.

 

"What is exciting is that a natural substance can be given in the bloodstream that can mimic some of the effects of endurance exercise on the brain," said Bruce Spiegelman, PhD, of Dana-Farber and HMS. He is co-senior author of the publication with Michael E. Greenberg, PhD, chair of neurobiology at HMS.

 

The Spiegelman group previously reported that the protein, called FNDC5, is produced by muscular exertion and is released into the bloodstream as a variant called irisin. In the new research, endurance exercise -- mice voluntarily running on a wheel for 30 days -- increased the activity of a metabolic regulatory molecule, PGC-1α, in muscles, which spurred a rise in FNDC5 protein. The increase of FNDC5 in turn boosted the expression of a brain-health protein, BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic protein) in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in learning and memory.

 

It has been found that exercise stimulates BDNF in the hippocampus, one of only two areas of the adult brain that can generate new nerve cells. BDNF promotes development of new nerves and synapses -- connections between nerves that allow learning and memory to be stored -- and helps preserve the survival of brain cells.

 

How exercise raises BDNF activity in the brain wasn't known; the new findings linking exercise, PGC-1α, FNDC5 and BDNF provide a molecular pathway for the effect, although Spiegelman and his colleagues suggest there are probably others.

 

Having shown that FNDC5 is a molecular link between exercise and increased BDNF in the brain, the scientists asked whether artificially increasing FNDC5 in the absence of exercise would have the same effect. They used a harmless virus to deliver the protein to mice through the bloodstream, in hopes the FNDC5 could reach the brain and raise BDNF activity. Seven days later, they examined the mouse brains and observed a significant increase in BDNF in the hippocampus.

 

"Perhaps the most exciting result overall is that peripheral deliver of FNDC5 with adenoviral vectors is sufficient to induce central expression of Bdnf and other genes with potential neuroprotective functions or those involved in learning and memory," the authors said. Spiegelman cautioned that further research is needed to determine whether giving FNDC5 actually improves cognitive function in the animals. The scientists also aren't sure whether the protein that got into the brain is FNDC5 itself, or irisin, or perhaps another variant of the protein.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131010204803.htm

 

Exercise is no quick cure for insomnia

August 15, 2013

Science Daily/Northwestern University

Exercise is a common prescription for insomnia. But spending 45 minutes on the treadmill one day won't translate into better sleep that night, according to new Northwestern Medicine® research.

 

"If you have insomnia you won't exercise yourself into sleep right away," said lead study author Kelly Glazer Baron, a clinical psychologist and director of the behavioral sleep program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "It's a long-term relationship. You have to keep at it and not get discouraged."

 

This is the first long-term study to show aerobic exercise during the day does not result in improved sleep that same night when people have existing sleep problems. Most studies on the daily effects of exercise and sleep have been done with healthy sleepers.

 

The study also showed people exercise less following nights with worse sleep.

 

"Sleeping poorly doesn't change your aerobic capacity, but it changes people's perception of their exertion," Baron said. "They feel more exhausted."

 

The study will be published August 15 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Baron conducted the study with coauthor Kathryn Reid, research associate professor of neurology at Feinberg and senior author Phyllis Zee, M.D., the Benjamin and Virginia T. Boshes Professor of Neurology at Feinberg and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

 

"This new study shows exercise and sleep affect each other in both directions: regular long-term exercise is good for sleep but poor sleep can also lead to less exercise. So in the end, sleep still trumps everything as far as health is concerned," Zee said.

 

Baron decided to analyze the daily effect of exercise after hearing her patients with insomnia complain the exercise she recommended didn't help them right away.

 

"They'd say, 'I exercised so hard yesterday and didn't sleep at all,'" Baron said. "The prevailing thought is that exercise improves sleep, but I thought it probably wasn't that simple for people with insomnia."

 

Why does it take time for exercise to impact sleep?

 

"Patients with insomnia have a heightened level of brain activity and it takes time to re-establish a more normal level that can facilitate sleep," Zee said. "Rather than medications, which can induce sleep quickly, exercise may be a healthier way to improve sleep because it could address the underlying problem."

 

The study participants were older women, who have the highest prevalence of insomnia. Exercise is an optimum approach to promote sleep in an older population because drugs can cause memory impairment and falls.

 

Baron thinks the results also could apply to men because there is no evidence of gender differences in behavioral treatments for insomnia.

 

For the study, Baron performed an analysis of data from a 2010 clinical trial (by the same group of Northwestern researchers on the current paper) that demonstrated the ability of aerobic exercise to improve sleep, mood and vitality over a 16-week period in middle-age-to-older adults with insomnia. She and colleagues examined the daily sleep data from 11 women ages 57 to 70.

 

The key message is that people with sleep disturbances have to be persistent with exercise.

 

"People have to realize that even if they don't want to exercise, that's the time they need to dig in their heels and get themselves out there," Baron said. "Write a note on your mirror that says 'Just Do It!' It will help in the long run."

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130815084841.htm

Exercise may be the best medicine for Alzheimer's disease

July 30, 2013

Science Daily/University of Maryland

Regular, moderate exercise could improve memory and cognitive function in those at risk for Alzheimer's disease in a way no drug can. Scientists studied the effects of exercise on a group of older adults with mild cognitive impairment and found that brain activity associated with memory, measured by neuroimaging, improved after 12 weeks of a moderate exercise program.

 

New research out of the University of Maryland School of Public Health shows that exercise may improve cognitive function in those at risk for Alzheimer's by improving the efficiency of brain activity associated with memory. Memory loss leading to Alzheimer's disease is one of the greatest fears among older Americans. While some memory loss is normal and to be expected as we age, a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, signals more substantial memory loss and a greater risk for Alzheimer's, for which there currently is no cure.

 

The study, led by Dr. J. Carson Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology, provides new hope for those diagnosed with MCI. It is the first to show that an exercise intervention with older adults with mild cognitive impairment (average age 78) improved not only memory recall, but also brain function, as measured by functional neuroimaging (via fMRI). The findings are published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

 

"We found that after 12 weeks of being on a moderate exercise program, study participants improved their neural efficiency -- basically they were using fewer neural resources to perform the same memory task," says Dr. Smith. "No study has shown that a drug can do what we showed is possible with exercise."

 

Recommended Daily Activity: Good for the Body, Good for the Brain

 

Two groups of physically inactive older adults (ranging from 60-88 years old) were put on a 12-week exercise program that focused on regular treadmill walking and was guided by a personal trainer. Both groups -- one which included adults with MCI and the other with healthy brain function -- improved their cardiovascular fitness by about ten percent at the end of the intervention. More notably, both groups also improved their memory performance and showed enhanced neural efficiency while engaged in memory retrieval tasks.

 

The good news is that these results were achieved with a dose of exercise consistent with the physical activity recommendations for older adults. These guidelines urge moderate intensity exercise (activity that increases your heart rate and makes you sweat, but isn't so strenuous that you can't hold a conversation while doing it) on most days for a weekly total of 150 minutes.

 

Measuring Exercise's Impact on Brain Health and Memory

 

One of the first observable symptoms of Alzheimer's disease is the inability to remember familiar names. Smith and colleagues had study participants identify famous names and measured their brain activation while engaged in correctly recognizing a name -- e.g., Frank Sinatra, or other celebrities well known to adults born in the 1930s and 40s. "The task gives us the ability to see what is going on in the brain when there is a correct memory performance," Smith explains.

 

Tests and imaging were performed both before and after the 12-week exercise intervention. Brain scans taken after the exercise intervention showed a significant decrease in the intensity of brain activation in eleven brain regions while participants correctly identified famous names. The brain regions with improved efficiency corresponded to those involved in the pathology of Alzheimer's disease, including the precuneus region, the temporal lobe, and the parahippocampal gyrus.

 

The exercise intervention was also effective in improving word recall via a "list learning task," i.e., when people were read a list of 15 words and asked to remember and repeat as many words as possible on five consecutive attempts, and again after a distraction of being given another list of words.

 

"People with MCI are on a very sharp decline in their memory function, so being able to improve their recall is a very big step in the right direction," Smith states.

 

The results of Smith's study suggest that exercise may reduce the need for over-activation of the brain to correctly remember something. That is encouraging news for those who are looking for something they can do to help preserve brain function.

 

Dr. Smith has plans for a larger study that would include more participants, including those who are healthy but have a genetic risk for Alzheimer's, and follow them for a longer time period with exercise in comparison to other types of treatments. He and his team hope to learn more about the impact of exercise on brain function and whether it could delay the onset or progression of Alzheimer's disease.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130730123249.htm

 

Exercise can reduce stroke risk

July 18, 2013

Science Daily/University of Alabama at Birmingham

A new study from researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is one of the first to study the relationship between exercise and stroke in a large biracial cohort of men and women in the United States. The findings are published in the American Heart Association Journal Stroke.

 

Using 27,000 stroke-free blacks and whites ages 45 and older in the United States from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study cohort, researchers examined the association of self-reported physical activity with incident of stroke.

 

Participants were classified at baseline as being in active (i.e., no workouts in a typical week), moderately active (workouts one to three times per week) or vigorously active (workouts more than four times per week), and they were followed for an average of 5.7 years.

 

The results showed that physical inactivity was reported by 33 percent of participants and was associated with a 20 percent increased risk of stroke. Those who reported they exercised at least four times a week were less likely to experience a stroke or mini-stroke. Among men, only those who exercised four or more times a week had a lower stroke risk. Among women, the relationship between stroke and frequency of activity was less clear.

 

"The protective effect of intense physical activity may be through its impact on traditional risk factors such as hypertension and diabetes," explained Virginia Howard, Ph.D., UAB professor of epidemiology and senior study author.

 

"These findings confirm past results of studies done in only men or only women in limited geographical areas," Howard said. "By using the REGARDS cohort, our study was able to use a larger and more diverse population to show that participating in regular physical activity is associated with lower stroke risk."

 

Howard added that stroke is preventable, and physical activity is a major modifiable risk factor for stroke. "This should be emphasized more in routine physician check-ups, along with general education on the proven health benefits of regular physical activity on other stroke-risk factors including high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity," Howard said.

 

Study limitations highlighted include that the results are based on self-reported levels of physical activity, and self-reported data may not be a reflection of the truth. Also, investigators did not have data on the type or duration of the exercise in which people engaged, nor the number of sessions. Howard suggested future studies should consider different ways to measure physical activity through: use of more questions; devices such as accelerometers and heart monitors that can provide more objective data; and capturing information on other dimensions of physical activity such as frequency, intensity and duration.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130718130456.htm

 

Fatigue and Sleep Linked to Major League Baseball Performance, Career Longevity

May 31, 2013

Science Daily/American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Two new studies show that fatigue may impair strike-zone judgment during the 162 game Major League Baseball season, and a MLB player's sleepiness can predict his longevity in the league.

 

One study found that MLB players' strike-zone judgment was worse in September than in April in 24 of 30 teams. When averaged across all teams, strike-zone judgment was significantly worse in September compared with April. The statistical model demonstrated strong predictive value through the season.

 

"Plate discipline -- as measured by a hitter's tendency to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone -- got progressively worse over the course of a Major League Baseball season, and this decline followed a linear pattern that could be predicted by data from the six previous seasons," said principal investigator Scott Kutscher, MD, assistant professor of sleep and neurology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. "We theorize that this decline is tied to fatigue that develops over the course of the season due to a combination of frequency of travel and paucity of days off."

 

Another study found a significant and profound relationship between the sleepiness of a MLB player and his longevity in the league. As baseline self-reported scores of sleepiness on the Epworth Sleepiness Scale increased, the likelihood that a player would be in the league three seasons later decreased linearly. For example, 72 percent of players with a baseline ESS score of 5 were still in the league at the follow-up point, compared with only 39 percent of players with an ESS score of 10 and 14 percent of players with an ESS score of 15.

 

"We were shocked by how linear the relationship was," said principal investigator W. Christopher Winter, MD, medical director of the Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, Va. "It is a great reminder that sleepiness impairs performance. From a sports perspective, this is incredibly important. What this study shows is that we can use the science of sleep to predict sports performance."

 

Winter added that teams easily could implement sleepiness screening as part of their player evaluation system. "I can envision simple questions about sleep being a part of the battery of tests professional organizations use to evaluate prospects," he said. He also noted that players and their teams could benefit tremendously if a sleep specialist diagnoses and treats the condition causing a player to experience excessive daytime sleepiness. "That player may suddenly become far more valuable," Winter said.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130531105506.htm

 

People Who Normally Practice Sport Have a Better Attention Span

Apr. 10, 2013

Science Daily/University of Granada

A new article confirms that good physical health is related to a better functioning of both the central nervous system (CNS) and the autonomic nervous system (ANS).

 

This research has been carried out by scientists from the University of Granada.

New scientific evidence seems to confirm the famous Roman saying "Mens sana in corpore sano." Researchers from the University of Granada have demonstrated that people who normally practice sport have a better cognitive performance than those with bad physical health. More specifically, the results of this research indicate that the former have a better sustained attention span (they react more rapidly to an external stimulus introduced randomly while carrying out a monotonous task). Their autonomic nervous system also appears to work better when dealing with cognitive loads over a longer time period.

In an article published in the latest edition of the journal PLoS Onescientists compared the cognitive performance in specific tasks such as sustained attention, time-oriented attention (generating expectations of when an event will occur) and time perception.

The study involved working with a test group made up of 28 young males. Of these, 14 were University of Granada students, aged from 17 to 23 and who showed a low level of physical aptitude (according to regulatory values established by the American College of Sports Medicine). The other 14 subjects were aged from 18 to 29 and had a high level of physical aptitude: 11 belonged to the Andalusian Cycling Federation for Under-23s and the other 3 were students of the Faculty of Physical Activity and Sports Activities of the University of Granada. According to previous investigations, an improvement in vagal tone (more efficient functioning of the autonomic nervous system; greater variability in heart rate) is among the many benefits and also seems to be related to structural and functional adaptations of the central nervous system (for example, sporting activity prevents neuro-degeneration and promotes the growth of nerves and blood capillaries in zones such as the hippocampus, cortex, cerebellum and basal ganglia.

More rapid reaction times

The article has revealed that the group with good physical condition demonstrated a better cognitive performance with regards to sustained attention when compared with the group with a more sedentary lifestyle, and also demonstrated more rapid reaction times. No difference was seen with regards to the other two cognitive tasks. Without doubt, one of the most interesting results of this study is how the three cognitive tasks affected the working of the autonomic nervous system in different ways (measured through changes in heart rate variability). Temporary perception had the greatest effect on the variability of heart rate (greater reduction), while sustained perception was the task that had least effect on this autonomic indicator. Furthermore, the data showed a general decrease in the variability of heart rate as time passed following the activities, uniquely affecting the group of sedentary participants.

"It is important therefore to highlight that both the physiological and behavioural results obtained through our study suggest that the main benefit resulting from the good physical condition of the cyclists who participated in the study, appeared to be associated with the processes implicated by sustained attention," explains Antonio Luque Casado of the Department of Experimental Psychology of the University of Granada, the principal author of the study.

Nevertheless, the investigators warn that this is a preliminary study, "and future investigations are necessary in order to confirm these initial findings." With this objective, the University of Granada scientists are currently evaluating different population groups with a view to incorporating electrophysiological recording techniques and more powerful techniques of analysis such as ECG (electroencephalogram) in the future.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130410082159.htm

 

Inactive People Can Achieve Health and Fitness Gains in a Fraction of the Time

Feb. 1, 2013

Science Daily/Wiley

With many of us struggling to get enough exercise, sport and exercise scientists at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and the University of Birmingham, under the lead of Professor Anton Wagenmakers, have been working on a time-saving solution.

Instead of long stints in the gym and miles of running in the cold, the same results could be achieved in less than a third of the time, according to new research published February 1 in The Journal of Physiology.

The current recommendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UK Department of Health is that people of all ages should do three to five hours of endurance training per week to increase health and fitness and prevent chronic diseases and premature mortality. However, most people find it difficult to set aside this much time in their busy lives.

This study has taken existing research to a new level to prove that replacing endurance training with two types of interval training, High intensity Interval Training (HIT) and Sprint Interval Training (SIT), can make a massive difference to our health and aerobic fitness. In two articles in the 1 February issue of The Journal of Physiology, the researchers describe their recent discoveries that three sessions of SIT, taking just 90 min per week, are as effective as five sessions of traditional endurance exercise, taking five hours per week, in increasing whole body insulin sensitivity via two independent mechanisms.

LJMU researcher Matthew Cocks explains: 'One mechanism involves improved delivery of insulin and glucose to the skeletal muscle and the other involves improved burning of the fat stored in skeletal muscle fibres. Additionally, we found a reduced stiffness of large arteries which is important in reducing the risk of vascular disease.'

On the basis of these novel and earlier findings from other laboratories, Professor Wagenmakers expects that HIT and SIT will turn out to be unique alternative exercise modes suitable to prevent blood vessel disease, hypertension, diabetes and most of the other ageing and obesity related chronic diseases.

LJMU researcher Sam Shepherd describes: 'SIT involves four to six repeated 30 second 'all out' sprints on special laboratory bikes interspersed with 4.5 minutes of very low intensity cycling. Due to the very high workload of the sprints, this method is more suitable for young and healthy individuals. However, anyone of any age or level of fitness can follow one of the alternative HIT programmes which involve 15-60 second bursts of high intensity cycling interspersed with 2-4 minute intervals of low intensity cycling. HIT can be delivered on simple spinning bikes that are present in commercial gyms and are affordable for use at home or in the workplace.'

Lack of time is the number one reason that the majority of the adult population do not meet the current physical activity recommendations. SIT and HIT could solve this problem.

Sam Shepherd comments: 'A pilot study currently ongoing in the Sports Centre at the University of Birmingham has also shown that previously sedentary individuals in the age-range of 25-60 also find HIT on spinning bikes much more enjoyable and attractive than endurance training and it has a more positive effect on mood and feelings of well-being. This could imply that HIT is more suitable to achieve sustainable changes in exercise behaviour.'

HIT, therefore, seems to provide the ideal alternative to outdoor running, dangerous cycling trips and long boring endurance cycling sessions in health and fitness gyms. That is why the researchers believe that there will be a great future for HIT for obese and elderly individuals and potentially also for patients with hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130201090405.htm

Jocks Beat Bookworms on Brain Test

Jan. 31, 2013

Science Daily/Université de Montréal

nglish Premier League soccer players, NHL hockey players, France's Top 14 club rugby players, and even elite amateur athletes have better developed cognitive functions than the average university student, according to a perception study undertaken by Professor Jocelyn Faubert of the University of Montreal's School of Optometry. The study demonstrates a possible outcome of the increased cortical thickness that has been found in areas of trained athletes' brains. It also offers researchers new avenues for exploring the treatment of people who have issues with attention, such as the elderly. 

"Study participants were asked to describe a series of simulated objects moving through three dimensions. Although the context had nothing to do with any specific sport, we found that professional athletes were able to process the visual scenes much better than amateur athletes who were in turn better than the students," Faubert explained. 

The cognitive requirements for correctly interpreting the abstract moving scenes parallel situations such as driving, crossing the street or, case in point, performing sport. "It would appear that athletes are able to hyper-focus their attention to enhance learning, which is key to their abilities."

The researcher worked with 102 professional players from the groups mentioned above, 173 elite amateur athletes -- who were recruited from the NCAA American university sports program and a European Olympic training centre, and 33 non-athlete university students. The participants undertook the "3D-MOT" task fifteen times to evaluate several skills that scientists believe are critical to visual perceptual and cognitive abilities when viewing complex scenes: distribution of attention between a number of moving targets amongst distracters, large field of vision, maximum speed of objects that one is able to follow, and the ability to perceive depth. The scene is "neutral," meaning that sport specific familiarity such as play knowledge or experience will not influence the score as the movements and interactions are totally random. The 3D-MOT task was in fact developed by Professor Faubert and can be evaluated by using a graphical simulation machine he invented, known as the Neurotracker, and it has been used by teams such as Manchester United and teams in the NFL and NHL.

The tests revealed that the professional athletes were able to learn how to track fast moving objects at a much superior rate than the other groups, although all three groups improved their score over the 15 training sessions. "Clearly, mental processing and learning skills are key to the excellent performance of the professional athletes. However, it is unclear whether this superior learning ability is unique to professional athletes, and moreover whether these are innate skills that led them to be selected by these teams, or whether these skills have been acquired through extensive training," Faubert said. "It will therefore be interesting to see how individuals of all athletic abilities improve their perception score as they train with this system."

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130131095149.htm

Lack of Sleep Tied to Teen Sports Injuries

Oct. 21, 2012

Science Daily/American Academy of Pediatrics

Adolescent athletes who slept eight or more hours each night were 68 percent less likely to be injured than athletes who regularly slept less, according to an abstract presented Oct. 21, at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans.

 

For the abstract, "Lack of Sleep is Associated with Increased Risk of Injury in Adolescent Athletes," researchers asked middle and high school athletes (grades 7 to 12) enrolled at the Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, Calif., to answer questions about the number of sports they played and the time they committed to athletics (at school and through other programs), whether they used a private coach, whether they participated in strength training, how much sleep they got on average each night, and how much they subjectively enjoyed their athletic participation. Seventy percent of the student athletes (112 out of 160 students; 54 males and 58 females; mean age 15) completed the survey, conducted in conjunction with Children's Hospital Los Angeles. Researchers then reviewed those students' school records pertaining to reported athletic injuries.

 

Hours of sleep per night was significantly associated with a decreased likelihood of injury, according to the study results. In addition, the higher the grade level of the athlete, the greater the likelihood of injury -- 2.3 times greater for each additional grade in school. Gender, weeks of participating in sports per year, hours of participation per week, number of sports, strength training, private coaching and subjective assessments of "having fun in sports" were not significantly associated with injury.

 

"While other studies have shown that lack of sleep can affect cognitive skills and fine motor skills, nobody has really looked at this subject in terms of the adolescent athletic population," said study author Matthew Milewski, MD.

 

"When we started this study, we thought the amount of sports played, year-round play, and increased specialization in sports would be much more important for injury risk," said Dr. Milewski. Instead, "what we found is that the two most important facts were hours of sleep and grade in school."

 

The advanced age risk may reflect a cumulative risk for injury after playing three or four years at the high school level, Milewski said, and older athletes are bigger, faster and stronger.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121021102814.htm

New Studies Show Connection Between Sleepiness and Pro-Athlete Careers

June 12, 2012

Science Daily/American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Coaches, owners and fantasy-league traders take note: Sleep researcher W. Christopher Winter, MD, has uncovered a link between a pro athlete's longevity and the degree of sleepiness experienced in the daytime.

 

Winter is presenting two studies June 12 at SLEEP 2012 that associate the career spans of baseball and football players with their voluntary answers on a sleepiness questionnaire. The results show that less sleepy football players tended to remain with their drafting NFL teams after college. In addition, attrition rates for sleepier baseball players trended higher than MLB averages.

 

"A team's ability to accurately judge a prospect or a potential trade in terms of the value they will get for that player is what makes or breaks many professional sport teams," said Winter, principal investigator of the studies and the sleep advisor for Men's Health magazine. "These studies demonstrate that a simple evaluation of sleepiness may be a powerful tool to add to the list of tests athletes already undergo, such as the Wonderlic Cognitive Abilities Test and the 40-yard dash."

 

The football study looked at 55 randomly selected college players who landed in the NFL, finding that sleepier athletes only had a 38 percent chance of staying with the team that originally drafted them. In comparison, 56 percent of the less sleepy players were considered a "value pick" because they did stay with the original team. The baseball study analyzed the sleepiness scale of 40 randomly selected baseball players and found that players who reported higher levels of daytime sleepiness also had attrition rates of 57 percent to 86 percent, well above the 30 -- 35 percent MLB average.

 

Winter said measuring sleepiness could do more for a team than help it decide who to draft. "Addressing sleepiness in players and correcting the underlying issues causing sleepiness may help to prolong a player's career," he said.

 

Winter and his colleagues at Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center and CNSM Consulting in Charlottesville, Va., used the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS), a short questionnaire that can be helpful in detecting excessive daytime sleepiness. EDS is a common symptom of many sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120612101326.htm

How Exercise Affects the Brain: Age and Genetics Play a Role

May 18, 2012

Science Daily/Dartmouth College

May 18, 2012

Science Daily/Dartmouth College

Exercise clears the mind. It gets the blood pumping and more oxygen is delivered to the brain. This is familiar territory, but Dartmouth's David Bucci thinks there is much more going on.

"In the last several years there have been data suggesting that neurobiological changes are happening -- [there are] very brain-specific mechanisms at work here," says Bucci, an associate professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

From his studies, Bucci and his collaborators have revealed important new findings:

  • The effects of exercise are different on memory as well as on the brain, depending on whether the exerciser is an adolescent or an adult.
  • A gene has been identified which seems to mediate the degree to which exercise has a beneficial effect. This has implications for the potential use of exercise as an intervention for mental illness.

Bucci began his pursuit of the link between exercise and memory with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), one of the most common childhood psychological disorders. Bucci is concerned that the treatment of choice seems to be medication.

"The notion of pumping children full of psycho-stimulants at an early age is troublesome," Bucci cautions. "We frankly don't know the long-term effects of administering drugs at an early age -- drugs that affect the brain -- so looking for alternative therapies is clearly important."

Anecdotal evidence from colleagues at the University of Vermont started Bucci down the track of ADHD. Based on observations of ADHD children in Vermont summer camps, athletes or team sports players were found to respond better to behavioral interventions than more sedentary children. While systematic empirical data is lacking, this association of exercise with a reduction of characteristic ADHD behaviors was persuasive enough for Bucci.

Coupled with his interest in learning and memory and their underlying brain functions, Bucci and teams of graduate and undergraduate students embarked upon a project of scientific inquiry, investigating the potential connection between exercise and brain function. They published papers documenting their results, with the most recent now available in the online version of the journal Neuroscience.

Bucci is quick to point out that "the teams of both graduate and undergraduates are responsible for all this work, certainly not just me." Michael Hopkins, a graduate student at the time, is first author on the papers.

Early on, laboratory rats that exhibit ADHD-like behavior demonstrated that exercise was able to reduce the extent of these behaviors. The researchers also found that exercise was more beneficial for female rats than males, similar to how it differentially affects male and female children with ADHD.

Moving forward, they investigated a mechanism through which exercise seems to improve learning and memory. This is "brain derived neurotrophic factor" (BDNF) and it is involved in growth of the developing brain. The degree of BDNF expression in exercising rats correlated positively with improved memory, and exercising as an adolescent had longer lasting effects compared to the same duration of exercise, but done as an adult.

"The implication is that exercising during development, as your brain is growing, is changing the brain in concert with normal developmental changes, resulting in your having more permanent wiring of the brain in support of things like learning and memory," says Bucci. "It seems important to [exercise] early in life."

Bucci's latest paper was a move to take the studies of exercise and memory in rats and apply them to humans. The subjects in this new study were Dartmouth undergraduates and individuals recruited from the Hanover community.

Bucci says that, "the really interesting finding was that, depending on the person's genotype for that trophic factor [BDNF], they either did or did not reap the benefits of exercise on learning and memory. This could mean that you may be able to predict which ADHD child, if we genotype them and look at their DNA, would respond to exercise as a treatment and which ones wouldn't."

Bucci concludes that the notion that exercise is good for health including mental health is not a huge surprise. "The interesting question in terms of mental health and cognitive function is how exercise affects mental function and the brain." This is the question Bucci, his colleagues, and students continue to pursue.http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120518132812.htm

A Walk in the Park Gives Mental Boost to People with Depression

May 14, 2012

Science Daily/Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care

A walk in the park may have psychological benefits for people suffering from depression. In one of the first studies to examine the effect of nature walks on cognition and mood in people with major depression, researchers in Canada and the U.S. have found promising evidence that a walk in the park may provide some cognitive benefits.

The study was led by Marc Berman, a post-doctoral fellow at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, with partners from the University of Michigan and Stanford University. It is now published online, ahead of print publication, in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

"Our study showed that participants with clinical depression demonstrated improved memory performance after a walk in nature, compared to a walk in a busy urban environment," said Dr. Berman, who cautioned that such walks are not a replacement for existing and well-validated treatments for clinical depression, such as psychotherapy and drug treatment.

"Walking in nature may act to supplement or enhance existing treatments for clinical depression, but more research is needed to understand just how effective nature walks can be to help improve psychological functioning," he said. Dr. Berman's research is part of a cognitive science field known as Attention Restoration Theory (ART) which proposes that people concentrate better after spending time in nature or looking at scenes of nature. The reason, according to ART, is that people interacting with peaceful nature settings aren't bombarded with external distractions that relentlessly tax their working memory and attention systems. In nature settings, the brain can relax and enter a state of contemplativeness that helps to restore or refresh those cognitive capacities.

In a research paper he published in 2008 in Psychological Science, Dr. Berman showed that adults who were not diagnosed with any illness received a mental boost after an hour-long walk in a woodland park -- improving their performance on memory and attention tests by 20 percent -- compared to an hour-long stroll in a noisy urban environment. The findings were reported by The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and in the Pulitzer Prize finalist book by Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains.

In this latest study, Dr. Berman and his research team explored whether a nature walk would provide similar cognitive benefits, and also improve mood for people with clinical depression. Given that individuals with depression are characterized by high levels of rumination and negative thinking, the researchers were skeptical at the outset of the study that a solitary walk in the park would provide any benefit at all and may end up worsening memory and exacerbating depressed mood.

For the study, 20 individuals were recruited from the University of Michigan and surrounding Ann Arbor area; all had a diagnosis of clinical depression. The 12 females and eight males (average age 26) participated in a two-part experiment that involved walking in a quiet nature setting and in a noisy urban setting. Prior to the walks, participants completed baseline testing to determine their cognitive and mood status. Before beginning a walk, the participants were asked to think about an unresolved, painful autobiographical experience. They were then randomly assigned to go for an hour-long walk in the Ann Arbor Arboretum (woodland park) or traffic heavy portions of downtown Ann Arbor. They followed a prescribed route and wore a GPS watch to ensure compliance. After completing their walk, they completed a series of mental tests to measure their attention and short-term/working memory and were re-assessed for mood. A week later the participants repeated the entire procedure, walking in the location that was not visited in the first session.

Participants exhibited a 16 percent increase in attention and working memory after the nature walk relative to the urban walk. Interestingly, interacting with nature did not alleviate depressive mood to any noticeable degree over urban walks, as negative mood decreased and positive mood increased after both walks to a significant and equal extent. Dr. Berman says this suggests that separate brain mechanisms may underlie the cognitive and mood changes of interacting with nature.
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120514134303.htm