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I've recently posted (July 10 and 11) on how our biome (the microbial community within us) may affect our moods and brain functioning. However, the following excerpts from the article on creativity reminds us that we cannot neglect looking at our genetic history and genes. I highlighted in bold-type some of the research results. This author is the neuroscientist Nancy Andreason, who has spent decades studying creativity and where creative genius comes from, whether it is dependent on high IQ, and why it is so often accompanied by mental illness. Do go and read the whole article. From The Atlantic:

Secrets of the Creative Brain

I have spent much of my career focusing on the neuroscience of mental illness, but in recent decades I’ve also focused on what we might call the science of genius, trying to discern what combination of elements tends to produce particularly creative brains. What, in short, is the essence of creativity? Over the course of my life, I’ve kept coming back to two more-specific questions: What differences in nature and nurture can explain why some people suffer from mental illness and some do not? And why are so many of the world’s most creative minds among the most afflicted? My latest study, for which I’ve been scanning the brains of some of today’s most illustrious scientists, mathematicians, artists, and writers, has come closer to answering this second question than any other research to date.

Although many people continue to equate intelligence with genius, a crucial conclusion from Terman’s study is that having a high IQ is not equivalent to being highly creative...Subsequent studies by other researchers have reinforced Terman’s conclusions, leading to what’s known as the threshold theory, which holds that above a certain level, intelligence doesn’t have much effect on creativity: most creative people are pretty smart, but they don’t have to be that smart, at least as measured by conventional intelligence tests. An IQ of 120, indicating that someone is very smart but not exceptionally so, is generally considered sufficient for creative genius.

But if high IQ does not indicate creative genius, then what does? And how can one identify creative people for a study?...In my own version of a eureka moment, the answer finally came to me: creative people are better at recognizing relationships, making associations and connections, and seeing things in an original way—seeing things that others cannot see. 

This time around, I wanted to examine a more diverse sample of creativity, from the sciences as well as the arts...My individual jewels so far include, among others, the filmmaker George Lucas, the mathematician and Fields Medalist William Thurston, the Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Jane Smiley, and six Nobel laureates from the fields of chemistry, physics, and physiology or medicine. 

You cannot force creativity to happen—every creative person can attest to that. But the essence of creativity is making connections and solving puzzles. 

As I hypothesized, the creative people have shown stronger activations in their association cortices during all four tasks than the controls have. This pattern has held true for both the artists and the scientists, suggesting that similar brain processes may underlie a broad spectrum of creative expression....Many creative people are polymaths, people with broad interests in many fields—a common trait among my study subjects.

So far, this study—which has examined 13 creative geniuses and 13 controls—has borne out a link between mental illness and creativity similar to the one I found in my Writers’ Workshop study. The creative subjects and their relatives have a higher rate of mental illness than the controls and their relatives do (though not as high a rate as I found in the first study), with the frequency being fairly even across the artists and the scientists. The most-common diagnoses include bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety or panic disorder, and alcoholism.

As in the first study, I’ve also found that creativity tends to run in families, and to take diverse forms. In this arena, nurture clearly plays a strong role. Half the subjects come from very high-achieving backgrounds, with at least one parent who has a doctoral degree. The majority grew up in an environment where learning and education were highly valued.

So why do these highly gifted people experience mental illness at a higher-than-average rate? Given that (as a group) their family members have higher rates than those that occur in the general population or in the matched comparison group, we must suspect that nature plays a role—that Francis Galton and others were right about the role of hereditary factors in people’s predisposition to both creativity and mental illness. We can only speculate about what those factors might be, but there are some clues in how these people describe themselves and their lifestyles.

One possible contributory factor is a personality style shared by many of my creative subjects. These subjects are adventuresome and exploratory. They take risks. Particularly in science, the best work tends to occur in new frontiers. (As a popular saying among scientists goes: “When you work at the cutting edge, you are likely to bleed.”) They have to confront doubt and rejection. And yet they have to persist in spite of that, because they believe strongly in the value of what they do. This can lead to psychic pain, which may manifest itself as depression or anxiety, or lead people to attempt to reduce their discomfort by turning to pain relievers such as alcohol.

I’ve been struck by how many of these people refer to their most creative ideas as “obvious.” Since these ideas are almost always the opposite of obvious to other people, creative luminaries can face doubt and resistance when advocating for them. ... When you have talent and see things in a particular way, you are amazed that other people can’t see it.” Persisting in the face of doubt or rejection, for artists or for scientists, can be a lonely path—one that may also partially explain why some of these people experience mental illness.

One interesting paradox that has emerged during conversations with subjects about their creative processes is that, though many of them suffer from mood and anxiety disorders, they associate their gifts with strong feelings of joy and excitement. “Doing good science is simply the most pleasurable thing anyone can do,” one scientist told me. 

As for how these ideas emerge, almost all of my subjects confirmed that when eureka moments occur, they tend to be precipitated by long periods of preparation and incubation, and to strike when the mind is relaxed—during that state we called REST. “A lot of it happens when you are doing one thing and you’re not thinking about what your mind is doing,” one of the artists in my study told me. “I’m either watching television, I’m reading a book, and I make a connection … 

Many creative people are autodidacts. They like to teach themselves, rather than be spoon-fed information or knowledge in standard educational settings. 

Creative people tend to be very persistent, even when confronted with skepticism or rejection....Of course, having too many ideas can be dangerous. One subject, a scientist who happens to be both a kite and a string, described to me “a willingness to take an enormous risk with your whole heart and soul and mind on something where you know the impact—if it worked—would be utterly transformative.” The if here is significant. Part of what comes with seeing connections no one else sees is that not all of these connections actually exist. 

This is Part 3 on how lifestyle influences aging. Many recent research reports tell of a link between our lifestyle and how we'll age - whether we'll be active and healthy well into our 80s or in terrible shape and dying young. Mind you, these are not "definites" because nothing can give you a guarantee, but they are ways we can improve our odds in living a long and healthy life. From Medical Xpress:

Having a sense of purpose may add years to your life, study finds

Feeling that you have a sense of purpose in life may help you live longer, no matter what your age, according to new research. The research has clear implications for promoting positive aging and adult development, says the lead researcher.

The researchers looked at data from over 6000 participants, focusing on their self-reported purpose in life (e.g., "Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them") and other psychosocial variables that gauged their positive relations with others and their experience of positive and negative emotions.

Greater purpose in life consistently predicted lower  across the lifespan, showing the same benefit for younger, middle-aged, and older participants across the follow-up period. "To show that purpose predicts longer lives for younger and older adults alike is pretty interesting, and underscores the power of the construct," he explains.

From Science Daily:

Education boosts brain function long after school, study shows

Education significantly improves mental functioning in seniors even four decades after finishing school, shows a new study. The study shows that people who attended school for longer periods performed better in terms of cognitive functioning than those who did not. Using data from individuals aged around 60, the researchers found a positive impact of schooling on memory scores. The fact that young people or their parents did not choose whether to go longer to school strongly suggests that schooling is the cause rather than personal characteristics that would affect this choice and could also explain the differences in cognitive function.

From Medscape:

Lifetime of Intellectual Enrichment Keeps Aging Brain Sharp

A lifetime of intellectual enrichment helps delay onset of cognitive decline in older individuals, new data from the Mayo Clinic Study on Aging show.

In this longitudinal study, researchers found ties between higher levels of education and working in mentally stimulating jobs in early- to mid-life, as well as higher levels of mid- to late-life cognitive activity, such as using a computer, reading, and participating in social activities, and better cognition with age..."We also found that an individual with low education/occupation benefited more by engaging in high mid-/late-life cognitive activity than an individual with high education/occupation," Dr. Vemuri noted.

A number of research results were reported at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2014.  From Science Daily:

Potential Alzheimer's disease risk factor and risk reduction strategies become clearer

Participation in activities that promote mental activity, and moderate physical activity in middle age, may help protect against the development of Alzheimer's disease and dementia in later life, according to new research.

From Science Daily:

Physical activity is beneficial for late-life cognition

Physical activity in midlife seems to protect from dementia in old age, according to a study. Those who engaged in physical activity at least twice a week had a lower risk of dementia than those who were less active. The protective effects were particularly strong among overweight individuals. In addition, the results showed that becoming more physically active after midlife may also contribute to lowering dementia risk.

Here are some more articles that I found regarding psychobiotics or the use of probiotics to affect behavior and treat psychiatric disorders.  A probiotic is a microorganism introduced into the body for its beneficial properties. Even though the articles are from 2013, they all give slightly different information about this emerging and exciting new field. Please note that psychotropic means having an effect on how the mind works (and it usually refers to drugs that affect a person's mental state). Remember that this area of research and terminology used is in its infancy. From Medscape (November 2013):

Probiotics a Potential Treatment for Mental Illness

Probiotics, which are live bacteria that help maintain a healthy digestive system, are now often promoted as an important part of dietary supplements and natural food products. "Many of the numerous health-improvement claims have yet to be supported scientifically..."

They note that the term "psychobiotic" was created as recent studies have begun to explore a possible link between probiotics and behavior.  "As a class of probiotic, these bacteria are capable of producing and delivering neuroactive substances such as gamma-aminobutyric acid [GABA] and serotonin, which act on the brain-gut axis," they write.

For this review, the investigators sought to examine studies that assessed whether ingesting these bacteria "in adequate amounts" could potentially lead to an effective treatment for depression and other stress-related disorders. In 1 of the preclinical studies examined, mice that ingested L rhamnosus showed reduced anxiety scores and "altered central expression" on both the GABA type A and type B receptors.

And a study of human patients with chronic fatigue syndrome showed that those who consumed an active strain of L casei 3 times a day had significantly higher improvement scores on anxiety measures than did those who received matching placebo. This provides "further support for the view that a probiotic may have psychotropic effects," write the researchers.

Still, Dr. Dinan called for caution. "What is clear at this point is that, of the large number of putative probiotics, only a small percentage have an impact on behavior and may qualify as psychobiotics," said Dr. Dinan. He added that for now, the field needs to wait for large-scale, placebo-controlled trials to provide definitive evidence of benefit and to detect which probiotics have psychobiotic potential.

Dr. Camille Zenobia wrote this in August 2013. From Real Clear Science:

Can 'Psychobiotic' Bacteria Affect Our Mood?

But what about your brain? Apparently, bacteria influence what’s going on up there, too. Within the last several years, a blossoming field of study called “microbial endocrinology” has provided some provocative insights about the relationship between our GI microbiota and our mood and behavior.

Studies in the field of microbial endocrinology have implicated GI microbes as a factor that can regulate the endocrine system. This could have both good and bad effects since the endocrine system is responsible for the production of hormones and coordinates metabolism, respiration, excretion, reproduction, sensory perception and immune function.

From Nov. 2013 Popular Science:

Forget Prozac, Psychobiotics Are The Future Of Psychiatry

The answer lies in the fact that many psychiatric illnesses are immunological in nature through chronic low level inflammation. There is a plethora of evidence showing the link between gut microbiota and inflammation and studies on probiotic strains have revealed their ability to modulate inflammation and bring back a healthy immunological function.  In this regard, by controlling inflammation through probiotic administration, there should be an effect of improved psychiatric disposition.

The authors bring up another reason why psychobiotics are so unique in comparison to most probiotics.  These strains have another incredible ability to modulate the function of the adrenal cortex, which is responsible for controlling anxiety and stress response. Probiotic strains, such as Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifdobacterium longum have shown to reduce levels of stress hormones and maintain a calmer, peaceful state.  There may be a host of other probiotic bacteria with the same ability although testing has been scant at best.

Finally, the last point in support of psychobiotics is the fact that certain strains of bacteria actually produce the chemicals necessary for a happy self.  But as these chemicals cannot find their way into the brain, another route has been found to explain why they work so well.  They stimulate cells in the gut that have the ability to signal the vagus nerve that good chemicals are in the body.  The vagus nerve then submits this information to the brain, which then acts as if the chemicals were there.  

Lately some articles have been mentioning the amazing possibility of new treatments for psychiatric disorders using bacteria as psychobiotics. Think of probiotics (microorganisms that have beneficial effects when consumed) that affect the brain. Researchers promoting the use of this term define a psychobiotic as "a live organism that, when ingested in adequate amounts, produces a health benefit in patients suffering from psychiatric illness". This new emerging field is just in its infancy. Lots of speculation and anecdotal evidence, and a few tantalizing studies.

I think the following article is a good introduction to this research area of the gut and mind/brain interaction, even though it was published in late 2013. Or you could order the newly published scholarly book "Microbial Endocrinology: The Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis in Health and Disease" (Editors M.Lyte and J.F.Cryan) with a $189. purchase price (!).  From November 2103 NPR:

Gut Bacteria Might Guide The Workings Of Our Minds

Could the microbes that inhabit our guts help explain that old idea of "gut feelings?" There's growing evidence that gut bacteria really might influence our minds

"I'm always by profession a skeptic," says Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles. "But I do believe that our gut microbes affect what goes on in our brains.Mayer thinks the bacteria in our digestive systems may help mold brain structure as we're growing up, and possibly influence our moods, behavior and feelings when we're adults. "It opens up a completely new way of looking at brain function and health and disease," he says.

So Mayer is working on just that, doing MRI scans to look at the brains of thousands of volunteers and then comparing brain structure to the types of bacteria in their guts. He thinks he already has the first clues of a connection, from an analysis of about 60 volunteers. Mayer found that the connections between brain regions differed depending on which species of bacteria dominated a person's gut. 

But other researchers have been trying to figure out a possible connection by looking at gut microbes in mice. There they've found changes in both brain chemistry and behavior. One experiment involved replacing the gut bacteria of anxious mice with bacteria from fearless mice"The mice became less anxious, more gregarious," says Stephen Collins of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, who led a team that conducted the researchIt worked the other way around, too — bold mice became timid when they got the microbes of anxious ones. And aggressive mice calmed down when the scientists altered their microbes by changing their diet, feeding them probiotics or dosing them with antibiotics. 

Scientists also have been working on a really obvious question — how the gut microbes could talk to the brainA big nerve known as the vagus nerve, which runs all the way from the brain to the abdomen, was a prime suspect. And when researchers in Ireland cut the vagus nerve in mice, they no longer saw the brain respond to changes in the gut"The vagus nerve is the highway of communication between what's going on in the gut and what's going on in the brain," says John Cryan of the University College Cork in Ireland, who has collaborated with Collins.

Gut microbes may also communicate with the brain in other ways, scientists say, by modulating the immune system or by producing their own versions of neurotransmitters"I'm actually seeing new neurochemicals that have not been described before being produced by certain bacteria," says Mark Lyte of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Abilene, who studies how microbes affect the endocrine system. "These bacteria are, in effect, mind-altering microorganisms."

This research raises the possibility that scientists could someday create drugs that mimic the signals being sent from the gut to the brain, or just give people the good bacteria — probiotics — to prevent or treat problems involving the brain. Experiments to test whether changing gut microbes in humans could affect the brain are only just beginning. 

One team of researchers in Baltimore is testing a probiotic to see if it can help prevent relapses of mania among patients suffering from bipolar disorder."The idea is that these probiotic treatments may alter what we call the microbiome and then may contribute to an improvement of psychiatric symptoms," says Faith Dickerson, director of psychology at the Sheppard Pratt Health System.

Mayer also has been studying the effects of probiotics on the brain in humans. Along with his colleague Kirsten Tillisch, Mayer gave healthy women yogurt containing a probiotic and then scanned their brains. He found subtle signs that the brain circuits involved in anxiety were less reactive, according to a paper published in the journal Gastroenterology.

But Mayer and others stress that a lot more work will be needed to know whether that probiotic — or any others — really could help people feel less anxious or help solve other problems involving the brain. He says, "We're really in the early stages."

Research reports and articles on the benefits of exercise have been piling up. Here are some worth looking at. From Science Daily:

Sitting too much, not just lack of exercise, is detrimental to cardiovascular health

Cardiologists have found that sedentary behaviors may lower cardiorespiratory fitness levels. New evidence suggests that two hours of sedentary behavior can be just as harmful as 20 minutes of exercise is beneficial.

From Science Daily:

Out of shape? Your memory may suffer

Here's another reason to drop that doughnut and hit the treadmill: A new study suggests aerobic fitness affects long-term memory. "The findings show that lower-fit individuals lose more memory across time," said a co-author. The study is one of the first to investigate young, supposedly healthy adults. 

From Science Daily:

Less exercise, not more calories, responsible for expanding waistlines

Sedentary lifestyle and not caloric intake may be to blame for increased obesity in the US, according to a new analysis. A study reveals that in the past 20 years there has been a sharp decrease in physical exercise and an increase in average body mass index (BMI), while caloric intake has remained steady. 

From Science Daily:

Older adults: Build muscle and you'll live longer

The more muscle mass older Americans have, the less likely they are to die prematurely, new research shows. The findings add to the growing evidence that overall body composition -- and not the widely used body mass index, or BMI -- is a better predictor of all-cause mortality. "In other words, the greater your muscle mass, the lower your risk of death," said the study's co-author. "Thus, rather than worrying about weight or body mass index, we should be trying to maximize and maintain muscle mass."

From Medical Xpress:

Keeping active pays off in your 70s and 80s

Older people who undertake at least 25 minutes of moderate or vigorous exercise everyday need fewer prescriptions and are less likely to be admitted to hospital in an emergency, new research has revealed.

Researchers from the Universities of Bath, Bristol and UWE-Bristol looked at data from 213 people whose average age was 78. Of people studied, those who carried out more than 25 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day – such as walking quickly, cycling or swimming - received 50 per cent fewer prescriptions than those who were more active over a four to five year period.

Such physical activity leads to a higher metabolism and better circulation, reducing the risk of conditions and diseases common in older age such as high blood presure, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and strokes.

From Everyday Health:

The Best Anti-Aging Medicine? Exercise

Everyone knows that exercise is good for you — it helps manage weight, improves muscle and bone strength, and even lifts your spirits. It can also add years to your life.“People have been looking for the secret to a long and healthy life for millennia,” said Neil Resnick, MD, chief of the division of geriatrics and director of the University of Pittsburgh Institute on Aging. “It turns out the most powerful intervention is exercise.”

A recent study conducted at Harvard found that exercise can be at least as effective as prescription drugs when it comes to preventing common conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Exercise at any age is beneficial. From Science Daily:

Seniors who exercise regularly experience less physical decline as they age

Older adults in retirement communities who reported more exercise experienced less physical decline than their peers who reported less exercise, although many adults -- even those who exercised -- did not complete muscle-strengthening exercises, which are another defense against physical decline.

The researchers of this study looked at proximity to farm fields (how close a pregnant woman lives to a farm) and certain farm pesticides and found a link between exposure to farm pesticides during pregnancy and having a child with autism. But too bad they didn't also include pesticide exposures from homes (for pest control), gardens, and yards which would have given a more accurate measure of total exposure. However, it's a start. From Science Daily:

Association found between maternal exposure to agricultural pesticides and autism

Pregnant women who lived in close proximity to fields and farms where chemical pesticides were applied experienced a two-thirds increased risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder or other developmental delay, a study by researchers with the UC Davis MIND Institute has found. The associations were stronger when the exposures occurred during the second and third trimesters of the women's pregnancies.

The large, multisite California-based study examined associations between specific classes of pesticides, including organophosphates, pyrethroids and carbamates, applied during the study participants' pregnancies and later diagnoses of autism and developmental delay in their offspring. It is published online in Environmental Health Perspectives. "... the message is very clear: Women who are pregnant should take special care to avoid contact with agricultural chemicals whenever possible."

California is the top agricultural producing state in the nation, grossing $38 billion in revenue from farm crops in 2010. Statewide, approximately 200 million pounds of active pesticides are applied each year, most of it in the Central Valley, north to the Sacramento Valley and south to the Imperial Valley on the California-Mexico border. While pesticides are critical for the modern agriculture industry, certain commonly used pesticides are neurotoxic and may pose threats to brain development during gestation, potentially resulting in developmental delay or autism.

The study was conducted by examining commercial pesticide application using the California Pesticide Use Report and linking the data to the residential addresses of approximately 1,000 participants in the Northern California-based Childhood Risk of Autism from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study. The study includes families with children between 2 and 5 diagnosed with autism or developmental delay or with typical development. "We mapped where our study participants' lived during pregnancy and around the time of birth. In California, pesticide applicators must report what they're applying, where they're applying it, dates when the applications were made and how much was applied," Hertz-Picciotto said. "What we saw were several classes of pesticides more commonly applied near residences of mothers whose children developed autism or had delayed cognitive or other skills."

Organophosphates applied over the course of pregnancy were associated with an elevated risk of autism spectrum disorder, particularly for chlorpyrifos applications in the second trimester. Pyrethroids were moderately associated with autism spectrum disorder immediately prior to conception and in the third trimester. Carbamates applied during pregnancy were associated with developmental delay.

Exposures to insecticides for those living near agricultural areas may be problematic, especially during gestation, because the developing fetal brain may be more vulnerable than it is in adults. Because these pesticides are neurotoxic, in utero exposures during early development may distort the complex processes of structural development and neuronal signaling, producing alterations to the excitation and inhibition mechanisms that govern mood, learning, social interactions and behavior.

Please note that in the following study 200 grams is a measure of weight, and a little over a cup of many fruits and vegetables. Some examples: blueberries 1 cup=190 grams, green peas 1 cup=145 grams, but young salad greens 1 cup=20 grams. From Medical Daily:

Consuming Up To 200 Grams Of Fruits And Vegetables Will Decrease Your Stroke Risk

It’s not surprising that fruits and vegetables are the key to various health benefits, and now researchers are emphasizing their importance for reducing the risk of stroke.

In the study, researchers found that the stroke risk declined by 32 percent for the participants who ate 200 grams of fruit per day — and decreased by 11 percent for every 200 grams of daily vegetables. “Improving diet and lifestyle is critical for heart and stroke risk reduction in the general population,” Dr. Yan Qu, senior study author and director of the intensive care unit at Qingdao Municipal Hospital in China, said in a news release. “In particular, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is highly recommended because it meets micronutrient and macronutrient and fiber requirements without adding substantially to overall energy requirements.”

Authors of the study reviewed 20 studies over the course of 19 years that involved over 760,000 people throughout the U.S., Asia, and Europe. The beneficial effects of fruits and vegetables were apparent across the board in both men and women. 

 

It would be exciting if vitamin D supplementation improves cognitive function in the elderly. From Science Daily:

Vitamin D deficiency, cognition appear to be linked in older adults

Vitamin D deficiency and cognitive impairment are common in older adults, but there isn't a lot of conclusive research into whether there's a relationship between the two.

"This study provides increasing evidence that suggests there is an association between low vitamin D levels and cognitive decline over time," said lead author Valerie Wilson, M.D., assistant professor of geriatrics at Wake Forest Baptist. "Although this study cannot establish a direct cause and effect relationship, it would have a huge public health implication if vitamin D supplementation could be shown to improve cognitive performance over time because deficiency is so common in the population."

Wilson and colleagues were interested in the association between vitamin D levels and cognitive function over time in older adults. They used data from the Health, Aging and Body composition (Health ABC) study to look at the relationship. The researchers looked at 2,777 well-functioning adults aged 70 to 79 whose cognitive function was measured at the study's onset and again four years later. Vitamin D levels were measured at the 12-month follow-up visit.

The Health ABC study cohort consists of 3,075 Medicare-eligible, white and black, well-functioning, community-dwelling older adults who were recruited between April 1997 and June 1998 from Pittsburgh, Pa., and Memphis, Tenn.

"With just the baseline observational data, you can't conclude that low vitamin D causes cognitive decline. When we looked four years down the road, low vitamin D was associated with worse cognitive performance on one of the two cognitive tests used," Wilson said. "It is interesting that there is this association and ultimately the next question is whether or not supplementing vitamin D would improve cognitive function over time."

The benefits of exercise and being fit keeps growing. From Medical Daily:

Physical Fitness In Your 20s Can Help Preserve Your Thinking Skills Later On In Life

If you need some motivation to get up off the couch and in your running shoes than how about this; a new study has proved that those who are fitter in their 20s are sharper thinkers in their middle age. So not only does exercise improve your health, slim your waistline, and lift your mood, but apparently it can also make you smarter. 

The study was carried out by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. It started in 1985 and was conducted on nearly 3,000 19- to 30-year-olds in the U.S. The participants were asked to do a treadmill test and undergo physical examinations. They were asked to run for as long as they could without becoming exhausted or short of breath, according to the BBC. Then, 20 years later, the participants agreed to repeat the physical test. Five years after the second physical exam the participants underwent brain testing. These included a word recall test, a number-based test of attention, thinking speed and memory, and a test of how well people can focus while tuning out distractions. Results showed that the better people did on the treadmill test 20 years earlier, the better they did on the memory test. Also, those who had kept up their fitness later on in life scored the best overall in the memory tests. The researchers took into account factors such as weight, sex, drinking, smoking, and education. Still, those who did better on the treadmill test seemed to do better on the memory tests years later. 

The reasoning for this is that the brain uses a lot of oxygen and people who are fitter make more efficient use of oxygen. Also, exercise improves mitochondrial function, which is necessary in making use of energy. It is emphasized that this increase in brain function cannot be attributed to exercise alone. People who are physically fit are less likely to be sat in front of a television and more likely to interact with people and be engaged in life. “Just moving around — being engaged in family and life as opposed to sitting down and watching TV and pretty much not doing anything, they are going to preserve brain function. This is really about engagement in life,” lead researcher David Jacobs told NBC News. The study will continue by observing whether physical fitness in youth makes individuals less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease later on in life. “Investment in research is vital to better understand how we can protect our brains as we age,” Jacobs concluded.

This research also ties in with another study released this week that showed young adults who had better heart health, as measured by blood pressure, have better thinking skills in middle age than those with high blood pressure.

A totally off the wall study that I think will interest those who have wondered if we can control our dreams. This is especially appealing for everyone wanting pleasant dreams and wanting to avoid nightmares. From Science Daily:

Mass participation experiment reveals how to create the perfect dream

Today psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman from the University of Hertfordshire announces the results of a two-year study into dream control. The experiment shows that it is now possible for people to create their perfect dream, and so wake up feeling especially happy and refreshed.

In 2010, Professor Wiseman teamed-up with app developers YUZA to create 'Dream:ON' -- an iPhone app that monitors a person during sleep and plays a carefully crafted 'soundscape' when they dream. Each soundscape was carefully designed to evoke a pleasant scenario, such as a walk in the woods, or lying on a beach, and the team hoped that these sounds would influence people's dreams. At the end of the dream, the app sounded a gentle alarm and prompted the person to submit a description of their dream.

The app was downloaded over 500,000 times and the researchers collected millions of dream reports. After studying the data, Professor Wiseman discovered that the soundscapes did indeed influence people's dreams.

Richard Wiseman, professor in the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, said: "If someone chose the nature landscape then they were more likely to have a dream about greenery and flowers. In contrast, if they selected the beach soundscape then they were more likely to dream about the sun beating down on their skin."

"In 2013, neuroscientists from the University of Basel discovered that people experience more disturbed sleeping patterns around the time of a full Moon," remarked Wiseman. "We have seen a similar pattern, with more bizarre dreams being associated with a full moon."

Finally, the team also found that certain soundscapes produced far more pleasant dreams.

The findings are described in Professor Wiseman's book on sleep and dreaming, Night School. The Dream:ON app and all of the soundscapes are currently available free of charge.