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  Again, another study showing the importance of lifestyle factors in the development of protein buildups in the brain that are associated with the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Specifically, the study found that each one of several lifestyle factors—a healthy body mass index, physical activity and a Mediterranean diet, were linked to lower levels of plaques and tangles on brain scans in people who already had mild memory changes, (but not dementia). Other posts discussing Mediterranean diet and brain health (brain volume, etc.) are here, here, and here. Activity levels and brain health posts are here, here, and here. From Medical Xpress:

Diet and exercise can reduce protein build-ups linked to Alzheimer's

A study by researchers at UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior has found that a healthy diet, regular physical activity and a normal body mass index can reduce the incidence of protein build-ups that are associated with the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

In the study, 44 adults ranging in age from 40 to 85 (mean age: 62.6) with mild memory changes but no dementia underwent an experimental type of PET scan to measure the level of plaque and tangles in the brain. Researchers also collected information on participants' body mass index, levels of physical activity, diet and other lifestyle factors. Plaque, deposits of a toxic protein called beta-amyloid in the spaces between nerve cells in the brain; and tangles, knotted threads of the tau protein found within brain cells, are considered the key indicators of Alzheimer's.

The study found that each one of several lifestyle factors—a healthy body mass index, physical activity and a Mediterranean diet—were linked to lower levels of plaques and tangles on the brain scans. (The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals and fish and low in meat and dairy, and characterized by a high ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fats, and mild to moderate alcohol consumption.)

"The fact that we could detect this influence of lifestyle at a molecular level before the beginning of serious memory problems surprised us," said Dr. David Merrill, the lead author of the study, which appears in the September issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Earlier studies have linked a healthy lifestyle to delays in the onset of Alzheimer's. However, the new study is the first to demonstrate how lifestyle factors directly influence abnormal proteins in people with subtle memory loss who have not yet been diagnosed with dementia, Merrill said. Healthy lifestyle factors also have been shown to be related to reduced shrinking of the brain and lower rates of atrophy in people with Alzheimer's."The study reinforces the importance of living a healthy life to prevent Alzheimer's, even before the development of clinically significant dementia," Merrill said. 

Get active, really active, to reduce your risk for 5 diseases: breast cancer, colon cancer, heart disease, and ischemic stroke. Instead of the 150 minutes of brisk walking or 75 minutes per week of running (which is equal to the 600 metabolic equivalent (MET) minutes now recommended by the World Health Organization), this study found that much more exercise is needed for best health results.

This study (which was a review and analysis of 174 studies) found that there is a dose-response effect, with the most reduction in the risk of the 5 conditions by getting 3000 to 4000 MET minutes per week. This sounds like a lot, but the researchers  point out that this can be achieved by incorporating exercise into your daily routines. The researchers write: "A person can achieve 3000 MET minutes/week by incorporating different types of physical activity into the daily routine—for example, climbing stairs 10 minutes, vacuuming 15 minutes, gardening 20 minutes, running 20 minutes, and walking or cycling for transportation 25 minutes on a daily basis would together achieve about 3000 MET minutes a week."

So start thinking creatively about how to increase exercise or activity into your daily life, especially moderate or vigorous intensity activity. For example, park your car far from the store door, or better yet, bicycle or walk to the store from home. From Medscape:

Get Moving: High Physical-Activity Level Reduces Risk of 5 Diseases

High levels of physical activity can reduce the risk for five major diseases, including type 2 diabetes, new research shows. Findings from the systematic review and meta-analysis were published online ....The data, from a total 174 studies comprising 149,184,285 total person-years of follow-up, suggest that the more total regular daily physical activity one engages in — including recreation, transportation, occupational activity, and/or daily chores — the lower the risks for breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and ischemic stroke.

However, significant reductions in those conditions were seen only with total activity levels considerably higher than the minimum 600 metabolic equivalent (MET) minutes per week recommended by the World Health Organization for health benefits. That 600 METs equates to about 150 minutes/week of brisk walking or 75 minutes/week of running. (A MET is defined as the ratio of the metabolic rate during that activity to the metabolic rate when resting.) Risks of the five conditions dropped significantly with an increase in MET minutes per week from 600 to 3000 to 4000, with less additive benefit seen above that level.

For reference, the authors say, "a person can achieve 3000 MET minutes/week by incorporating different types of physical activity into the daily routine — for example, climbing stairs 10 minutes, vacuuming 15 minutes, gardening 20 minutes, running 20 minutes, and walking or cycling for transportation 25 minutes on a daily basis would together achieve about 3000 MET minutes a week." "This amount might seem a bit large, but this is about total activity across all domains of life.…For people who currently don't exercise, clinicians could encourage them to incorporate physical activity into their daily routines, [such as] turning household chores into exercise. 

Another recent meta-analysis of trials involving more than one million individuals indicated that an hour of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking or cycling, offsets the health risks of 8 hours of sitting. The message that physical inactivity is a killer — leading to 5.3 million premature deaths annually worldwide, which is as many as caused by smoking and twice as many as associated with obesity, has been emerging over the past few years, with warnings that "sitting is the new smoking."

This new research is the first meta-analysis to quantify the dose-response association between total physical activity across all domains and the risk of five chronic diseases. The 174 prospective cohort studies included 35 for breast cancer, 19 for colon cancer, 55 for diabetes, 43 for ischemic heart disease, and 26 for ischemic stroke. (Some included more than one end point.)....Higher levels of total physical activity were associated with lower risks of all five outcomes.

With the development of diabetes, for example, compared with no physical activity, those with 600 MET minutes per week (the minimum recommended level of activity) had a 2% lower risk. That risk reduction jumped by an additional 19% with an increase from 600 to 3600 METs/week. Gains were smaller above that, with the increase of total activity from 9000 to 12,000 MET minutes/week yielding only an additional 0.6% diabetes reduction.

Overall, compared with insufficiently active individuals (total activity < 600 MET minutes/week), the risk reduction for those in the highly active category (≥ 8000 MET minutes/week) was 14% for breast cancer; 21% for colon cancer; 28% for diabetes; 25% for ischemic heart disease; and 26% for ischemic stroke

Credit: Medscape

Get out there and start getting active NOW - the earlier you start in life, the better for your brain decades later. All physical activity or exercise is good, including regular walks. From Medical Xpress:

Regular exercise protects against cognitive decline in later years

Regular exercise in middle age is the best lifestyle change a person can make to prevent cognitive decline in the later years, a landmark 20-year study has found.

University of Melbourne researchers followed 387 Australian women from the Women's Healthy Ageing Project for two decades. The women were aged 45 to 55-years-old when the study began in 1992. The research team made note of their lifestyle factors, including exercise and diet, education, marital and employment status, number of children, mood, physical activity and smoking....They were also asked to learn a list of 10 unrelated words and attempt to recall them half an hour later, known as an Episodic Verbal Memory test.

When measuring the amount of memory loss over 20 years, frequent physical activity, normal blood pressure and high good cholesterol were all strongly associated with better recall of the words. Study author Associate Professor Cassandra Szoeke, who leads the Women's Healthy Ageing Project, said once dementia occurs, it is irreversible. "In our study more weekly exercise was associated with better memory." 

"We now know that brain changes associated with dementia take 20 to 30 years to develop," Associate Professor Szoeke said. "The evolution of cognitive decline is slow and steady, so we needed to study people over a long time period. We used a verbal memory test because that's one of the first things to decline when you develop Alzheimer's Disease."
Regular exercise of any type, from walking the dog to mountain climbing, emerged as the number one protective factor against memory loss. Asoc Prof Szoeke said that the best effects came from cumulative exercise, that is, how much you do and how often over the course of your life.  (Original study)

Another new study about lifestyle and the risk of cancer. Many earlier studies have established some lifestyle factors that increase cancer risk: smoking, alcohol use, obesity, and physical inactivity. In this study the researchers found that about 20% to 40% of cancer cases and about half of cancer deaths can be potentially prevented through lifestyle modification. For some cancers the the effect is even larger - for example, approximately 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths could be avoided if Americans adopted the lifestyle of the low-risk group, mainly by quitting smoking. For other cancers, from 10% to 70% of deaths could be prevented. Bottom line: making some lifestyle changes could change a person's cancer risk. Science Daily:

Can a healthy lifestyle prevent cancer?

A large proportion of cancer cases and deaths among U.S. individuals who are white might be prevented if people quit smoking, avoided heavy drinking, maintained a BMI between 18.5 and 27.5, and got moderate weekly exercise for at least 150 minutes or vigorous exercise for at least 75 minutes, according to a new study published online by JAMA Oncology. Cancer is a leading cause of death in the United States.

Mingyang Song, M.D., Sc.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, and Edward Giovannucci, M.D., Sc.D., of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, Boston, analyzed data from two study groups of white individuals to examine the associations between a "healthy lifestyle pattern" and cancer incidence and death.

A "healthy lifestyle pattern" was defined as never or past smoking; no or moderate drinking of alcohol (one or less drink a day for women, two or less drinks a day for men); BMI of at least 18.5 but lower than 27.5; and weekly aerobic physical activity of at least 150 minutes moderate intensity or 75 minutes vigorous intensity. Individuals who met all four criteria were considered low risk and everyone else was high risk. The study included 89,571 women and 46,399 men; 16,531 women and 11,731 had a healthy lifestyle pattern (low-risk group) and the remaining 73,040 women and 34,608 men were high risk.

The authors suggest about 20 percent to 40 percent of cancer cases and about half of cancer deaths could potentially be prevented through modifications to adopt the healthy lifestyle pattern of the low-risk group.The authors note that including only white individuals in their PAR estimates may not be generalizable to other ethnic groups but the factors they considered have been established as risk factors in diverse ethnic groups too.

 A recent study pooled the data from over a million Europeans and Americans and found that higher levels of leisure-time physical activity was associated with a reduced risk of developing cancer in 13 of the 26 cancers looked at. For that group of 13 cancers, the cancer risk reduction ranged from 10% to 42%. And most of these associations (leisure-time physical activity and lower risk of cancer) were evident regardless of body size or smoking history. Bottom line: getting active may lower your cancer risk. From Science Daily:

Physical activity associated with lower risk for many cancers

Higher levels of leisure-time physical activity were associated with lower risks for 13 types of cancers, according to a new study published online by JAMA Internal Medicine. Physical inactivity is common, with an estimated 51 percent of people in the United States and 31 percent of people worldwide not meeting recommended physical activity levels. Any decrease in cancer risk associated with physical activity could be relevant to public health and cancer prevention efforts.

Steven C. Moore, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md., and coauthors pooled data from 12 U.S. and European cohorts (groups of study participants) with self-reported physical activity (1987-2004). They analyzed associations of physical activity with the incidence of 26 kinds of cancer.The study included 1.4 million participants and 186,932 cancers were identified during a median of 11 years of follow-up.

The authors report that higher levels of physical activity compared to lower levels were associated with lower risks of 13 of 26 cancers: esophageal adenocarcinoma (42 percent lower risk); liver (27 percent lower risk); lung (26 percent lower risk); kidney (23 percent lower risk); gastric cardia (22 percent lower risk); endometrial (21 percent lower risk); myeloid leukemia (20 percent lower risk); myeloma (17 percent lower risk); colon (16 percent lower risk); head and neck (15 percent lower risk), rectal (13 percent lower risk); bladder (13 percent lower risk); and breast (10 percent lower risk). Most of the associations remained regardless of body size or smoking history, according to the article. Overall, a higher level of physical activity was associated with a 7 percent lower risk of total cancer.

Physical activity was associated with a 5 percent higher risk of prostate cancer and a 27 percent higher risk of malignant melanoma, an association that was significant in regions of the U.S. with higher levels of solar UV radiation but not in regions with lower levels, the results showed.

The authors note the main limitation of their study is that they cannot fully exclude the possibility that diet, smoking and other factors may affect the results. Also, the study used self-reported physical activity, which can mean errors in recall."These findings support promoting physical activity as a key component of population-wide cancer prevention and control efforts," the authors conclude.

Another study showing that higher physical activity (from a variety of activities) is "related to larger gray matter volume in the elderly, regardless of cognitive status", specifically in gray matter areas of the brain responsible for memory, learning, and cognition. In other words, higher levels of physical activity reduce brain atrophy that occurs with aging and improves cognitive function in elderly individuals.  There is also discussion of higher activity levels improving cerebral (brain) blood flow. Bottom line: get off your butt and move more for better brain health. From Medical Xpress:

Burning more calories linked with greater gray matter volume, reduced Alzheimer's risk

Whether they jog, swim, garden or dance, physically active older persons have larger gray matter volume in key brain areas responsible for memory and cognition, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UCLA.The findings, published today in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, showed also that people who had Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment experienced less gray matter volume reduction over time if their exercise-associated calorie burn was high.

A growing number of studies indicate physical activity can help protect the brain from cognitive decline, said investigator James T. Becker, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, Pitt School of Medicine..... "Our study is one of the largest to examine the relationship between physical activity and cognitive decline, and the results strongly support the notion that staying active maintains brain health."

Led by Cyrus Raji, M.D., Ph.D., formerly a student at Pitt School of Medicine and now a senior radiology resident at UCLA, the team examined data obtained over five years from nearly 876 people 65 or older participating in the multicenter Cardiovascular Health Study. All participants had brain scans and periodic cognitive assessments. They also were surveyed about how frequently they engaged in physical activities, such as walking, tennis, dancing and golfing, to assess their calorie expenditure or energy output per week.

Using mathematical modeling, the researchers found that the individuals who burned the most calories had larger gray matter volumes in the frontal, temporal and parietal lobes of the brain, areas that are associated with memory, learning and performing complex cognitive tasks. In a subset of more than 300 participants at the Pitt site, those with the highest energy expenditure had larger gray matter volumes in key areas on initial brain scans and were half as likely to have developed Alzheimer's disease five years later.

"Gray matter houses all of the neurons in your brain, so its volume can reflect neuronal health," Dr. Raji explained. "We also noted that these volumes increased if people became more active over five years leading up to their brain MRI."

The statements in this editorial may be obvious to many, but it is nicely written and needs to be said. Basically it says that exercise will not help you overcome the ill effects of a poor diet. I agree with what was said, but felt that what was missing was mention that a poor diet also has negative effects on the microbiome (the community of microbes living within the person) - which we know is linked to health problems. From Medscape:

Workouts Do Not Work Off Ill Effects of Poor Die

Exercise enthusiasts cannot work off the ill effects of an unhealthy diet, say the authors of an editorial published online April 22 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. "Let us bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity," the authors write. "You cannot outrun a bad diet."

Physical activity levels in Western nations have remained flat during the past 3 decades, even as obesity rates have exploded. That observation is just one sign that calories, not lack of exercise, are driving the obesity crisis, argue Aseem Malhotra, MD, honorary consultant cardiologist at Frimley Park Hospital, United Kingdom, and science director for Action on Sugar, United Kingdom, and colleagues.

"However, the obesity epidemic represents only the tip of a much larger iceberg of the adverse health consequences of poor diet," the authors write. They say that the Lancet global burden of disease reports concluded that poor diet contributes to more disease than a combination of inadequate physical activity, alcohol, and smoking. As many as 40% of people with normal body weight will suffer from metabolic abnormalities typically associated with obesity, the authors write, including hypertension, dyslipidemia, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and cardiovascular disease.

Dr Malhotra and colleagues blame food industry marketing for promoting exercise over diet, comparing food industry public relations with discredited tactics used by the tobacco industry in the past. They say Coca Cola "pushes the message that 'all calories count'; they associate their products with sport, suggesting it is ok to consume their drinks as long as you exercise. However science tells us this is misleading and wrong."

The kind of calorie matters too, they emphasize. Calories from sugar promote fat storage and hunger; fat calories induce satiety. For every 150 calories consumed from sugar, there is an 11-fold increase in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes independent of weight or physical activity levels compared with consumption of 150 calories of fat or protein.

Some weekly strenuous activity is best for women's health. From Science Daily:

Women active a few times weekly have lower risk of heart disease, stroke and blood clots

Middle-aged women physically active a few times per week have lower risks of heart disease, stroke and blood clots than inactive women. More frequent physical activity does not appear to lower the risks further, research shows.

In the study: - Women who performed strenuous physical activity -- enough to cause sweating or a faster heart beat -- two to three times per week were about 20 percent less likely to develop heart disease, strokes or blood clots compared to participants who reported little or no activity. - Among active women, there was little evidence of further risk reductions with more frequent activity. - Physical activities associated with reduced risk included walking, gardening, and cycling.

Participants included 1.1 million women in the United Kingdom with no history of cancer, heart disease, stroke, blood clots, or diabetes who joined the Million Women study in 1996-2001. Their average age when they joined the study was 56. The women reported their level of physical activity at the beginning of the study and three years later. Researchers then examined hospital admissions and deaths in relation to participants' responses. Follow-up was, on average, nine years.

Nice summary of cancer prevention advice. What it boils down to is that there is no magic bullet for cancer prevention (maybe the closest thing is to NOT smoke), but it's a lot of little things adding up (your lifestyle) that lowers the risk of cancer. From The Washington Post:

Looking for that fruit or vegetable that might prevent cancer?

Blueberries. Green tea. Tomatoes. And, oh, that cruciferous cauliflower. All make the lists of super foods that might help prevent cancer. Then there are the foods such as smoked meat and fried foods that supposedly might cause cancer. Such information is standard fare for TV doctors and Web sites, but most of us don’t know how to judge such claims. What sounds authoritative may not be. Only about half of the recommendations on two internationally syndicated TV medical talk shows were supported by scientific evidence, according to a recent study in the journal BMJ.

Of course, the blueberries we eat today are good for us. But nutrition’s role in cancer prevention is much more complex than a single dietary component: Evidence has mounted, for example, that lifestyle — diet, weight control and exercise — is vital in helping reduce risk. For now, experts endorse general dietary advice that is healthful for a variety of chronic diseases and conditions, rather than reductionist thinking that focuses on single foods or nutrients.

When you hear that a certain food helps prevent cancer, ask: Which cancer? “Cancer is multiple diseases,” said Marian Neuhouser, a nutritional epidemiologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Whereas cardiovascular disease might be broken down into several types, including myocardial infarction, stroke and peripheral vascular disease, she said, “for cancer, it’s really over 100 different diseases.” “Cancer is a very complex, very challenging disease to study whether you’re looking at it on the cell level or the clinical level or the epidemiologic and preventive level,” Willett said.

Researchers caution about overreacting to a single study. New findings come out every week, but “we never take any one study to be the answer to anything,” said Nancy Potischman, a nutritional epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute. Only if the same results come up in multiple studies across multiple populations, “then you might think that, yes, this food might be important,” she said.

Tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of cancer incidence and death worldwide. After tobacco, the lifestyle trio of diet, weight control and exercise may be linked to one-third to two-thirds of cancers. “They’re inseparable,” Neuhouser said. “You can have a great diet and you can have a healthy weight, but if you’re extremely sedentary then there’s a risk.”And there’s a strong link between excess weight and several kinds of cancer, including the esophagus, breast (after menopause), endometrium, colon and rectum, kidney, pancreas, thyroid, gallbladder, according to the NCI. 

Evidence mounts about how lifestyle may affect risk of cancer. In the largest study of its kind, nearly half a million Americans were evaluated for adherence to American Cancer Society cancer prevention guidelines that include smoking avoidance; a healthful, consistent weight; physical activity; limiting alcohol; and a diet emphasizing plants.

Those who followed the guidelines most closely had lowered risk of developing cancer (10 percent for men, 19 percent for women) and dying from cancer (25 percent for men, 24 percent for women) compared with those whose habits were least in line with the guidelines. Most striking was the reduction of overall risk of dying: 26 percent for men, 33 percent for women during the 14-year study period.

Fourteen types of cancer seemed affected by lifestyle behavior, most particularly gallbladder, endometrial, liver and colorectal. For men and women, a healthful weight and physical activity were the top factors in reduced deaths overall. Albert Einstein College of Medicine Researchers published this analysis online in January in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, based on data from a National Institutes of Health/AARP study.

Another approach to cancer and nutrition considers dietary patterns. “What we eat on any one day is not going to change our cancer risk, but it’s the pattern over the long term.” Neuhouser said. Several diets that emphasized fruit, vegetables, whole grains and plants or plant-based proteins were analyzed against information collected over more than 12 years from nearly 64,000 post-menopausal women in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. Consuming a high-quality diet was associated with lower death rates from chronic diseases including cancer, as reported last year in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The bacteria, viruses and other organisms that live in and on humans seem to play a bigger role in health and disease than was previously understood, Freudenheim said. How the countless microbes in such areas as the gut and the mouth might contribute to or prevent cancers is one of the open questions in the new area of study of the microbiome, which refers to the many organisms in the body, 10 percent of which are human and 90 percent nonhuman.

Exercise is the Fountain of Youth? Note that they could not come up with a biomarker of aging in these active people. From Medical Xpress;

Exercise allows you to age optimally

Staying active allows you to age optimally, according to a study by King's College London and the University of Birmingham. The study of amateur older cyclists found that many had levels of physiological function that would place them at a much younger age compared to the general population; debunking the common assumption that ageing automatically makes you more frail.

The study, published in The Journal of Physiology, recruited 84 male and 41 female cycling enthusiasts aged 55 to 79 to explore how the ageing process affects the human body, and whether specific physiological markers can be used to determine your age.

Cyclists were recruited to exclude the effects of a sedentary lifestyle, which can aggravate health problems and cause changes in the body, which might appear to be due to the ageing process. Men and women had to be able to cycle 100 km in under 6.5 hours and 60 km in 5.5 hours, respectively, to be included in the study...Participants underwent two days of laboratory testing at King's. For each participant, a physiological profile was established which included measures of cardiovascular, respiratory, neuromuscular, metabolic, endocrine and cognitive functions, bone strength, and health and well-being. Volunteers' reflexes, muscle strength, oxygen uptake during exercise and peak explosive cycling power were determined.

The results of the study showed that in these individuals, the effects of ageing were far from obvious. Indeed, people of different ages could have similar levels of function such as muscle strength, lung power and exercise capacity. The maximum rate of oxygen consumption showed the closest association with age, but even this marker could not identify with any degree of accuracy the age of any given individual, which would be the requirement for any useful biomarker of ageing.

In a basic, but important test of function in older people, the time taken to stand from a chair, walk three metres, turn, walk back and sit down was also measured. Taking more than 15 seconds to complete the task generally indicates a high risk of falling. Even the oldest participants in the present study fell well below these levels, fitting well within the norm for healthy young adults.

Overall, the study concluded that ageing is likely to be a highly individualist phenomenon...The main problem facing health research is that in modern societies the majority of the population is inactive. A sedentary lifestyle causes physiological problems at any age. Hence the confusion as to how much the decline in bodily functions is due to the natural ageing process and how much is due to the combined effects of ageing and inactivity."

"In many models of ageing lifespan is the primary measure, but in human beings this is arguably less important than the consequences of deterioration in health. Healthy life expectancy - our healthspan - is not keeping pace with the average lifespan, and the years we spend with poor health and disabilities in old age are growing."

Emeritus Professor Norman Lazarus, a member of the King's team and also a cyclist, said: "Inevitably, our bodies will experience some decline with age, but staying physically active can buy you extra years of function compared to sedentary people. Cycling not only keeps you mentally alert, but requires the vigorous use of many of the body's key systems, such as your muscles, heart and lungs which you need for maintaining health and for reducing the risks associated with numerous diseases."