Friday, March 21, 2014
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Exercise benefits the brain, too Regular exercise can benefit the body in many ways, helping men and women maintain healthier weights and lower their risks for developing potentially deadly diseases. Though many people are quick to associate exercise with its physical benefits, those hours spent on the treadmill also can boost brain power. According to Dr. Barry Gordon, professor of neurology and cognitive science at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and coauthor of “Intelligent Memory: Improve the Memory That Makes You Smarter,” exercise has a direct impact on the brain. That’s because exercise works directly on brain tissue, improving the connections between nerve cells, creating new synapses, growing new neurons and blood vessels, and improving cell energy efficiency. So while many people may begin an exercise regimen with a goal
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of trimming their waistlines or toning their bodies, they might be happy to know that those physical benefits are accompanied by several cognitive benefits as well. As the American Psychological Association acknowledges, the connection between exercise and mental health is hard to ignore, and the APA notes that the following are just a few of the mental benefits men and women might reap from regular exercise.
Improved mood Many people feel great after exercising,
• LIGHT HOUSEKEEPING • GROCERY SHOPPING • RUN ERRANDS • PREPARE MEALS • TRANSPORTATION TO DOCTOR’S APPOINTMENTS • HOME SAFETY CHECK • AND MUCH MORE especially if that exercise comes at the end of a particularly stressful day. However, those extra laps on the track or those hours spent on the treadmill don’t just pay shortterm dividends. In a controlled trial overseen by Duke University researcher and clinical psychologist James Blumenthal, Continued next page
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Friday, March 21, 2014
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order were assigned into one of four groups: supervised exercise, home-based exercise, antidepressant therapy, or a placebo pill. Those in the exercise and antidepressant groups had higher rates of remission than those in the placebo group, and Blumenthal concluded that exercise was generally comparable to antidepressants for men and women with major depressive disorder. In addition, in following up with patients a year later, Blumenthal found that those who continued to exercise had lower depression scores than those participants who were less active. Blumenthal’s study was not the only one to conclude that exercise can have a positive impact on mood. In a review of 11 studies that examined the effects of exercise on mental health, Boston University professor of psychology Michael Otto and his colleagues found that exercise could be a powerful tool when treating clinical depression, and even recommended clinicians include exercise as part of their treatment plans for depressed patients.
Antidote to anxiety Some researchers, Otto included, have begun to examine the effects of exercise on treating and possibly preventing anxiety. The body’s nervous system responds quickly when people feel frightened or threatened, often causing the body’s heart rate to increase and sweating and dizziness to occur. Those people who are especially sensitive to anxiety respond to these feel-
of ings with fear, and that makes them more likely to develop panic disorders. But Otto and fellow researcher Jasper Smits of the Anxiety Research and Treatment Program at Southern Methodist University studied the effects that regular workouts might have on people prone to anxiety. Since exercise produces many of the same physical reactions, such as sweating and an elevated heart rate, the body produces when responding to fear or threats, Otto and Smits wanted to determine if exercise might help people prone to anxiety become less likely to panic when experiencing fear or threats. In studying 60 participants withheightened sensitivity to anxiety, Otto and Smits found that the subjects who participated in a two-week exercise program exhibited marked improvements in anxiety sensitivity compared to those participants who did not take part in the exercise program. Otto and Smith concluded that this improvement was a result of the exercise group participants learning to associate the symptoms common to both fear and exercise, such as sweating and an elevated heart rate, with something positive (exercise) instead of something negative (anxiety). Regular exercise benefits the human body in numerous ways, not the least of which is its impact on the brain. More information on the link between exercise and improved mental health is available at www.apa.org.
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Friday, March 21, 2014
Separating epilepsy facts from myths
Contrary to popular belief, children diagnosed with epilepsy often outgrow the condition by the time they reach adulthood. Epilepsy affects some 50 million people around the world. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, 2.7 million people in the United States are living with epilepsy, making it the third most common neurological disorder, after stroke and Alzheimer’s disease, in the United States. The majority of those living with epilepsy can be successfully treated with medication to help prevent seizures. Epilepsy is a part of a group of disorders that temporarily impair brain function and affects people differently. Epilepsy was mentioned in some of the earliest medical writings, and people with epilepsy were once thought to be possessed, witches or mentally ill. As with any condition, especially one that can be so stressful to experience, assumptions about people with epilepsy are made based on misinformation instead of fact. The following are some common myths and less widely known facts about epilepsy. MYTH: Epilepsy affects intelligence. FACT: Epilepsy itself does not lower intelligence. Some very intelligent people throughout history have had epilepsy, including Beethoven and Napoleon. If seizures are frequent, epilepsy can impact learning ability by proving itself disruptive in the classroom. MYTH: A person with epilepsy can swallow his tongue during a seizure. FACT: It is impossible to swallow one’s own tongue. Nothing should ever be placed in a person’s mouth during a seizure. This can result in dental trauma. MYTH: All seizures involve bodily convulsions. FACT: There are many different types of seizures, ranging from altered consciousness to a blank stare to convulsions. A person might not even realize another is experiencing a seizure from epilepsy while it is occurring.
MYTH: Epilepsy is contagious. FACT: Epilepsy is not contagious. Causes of epilepsy are generally unknown. Some people are born with the condition, while others develop it due to some sort of traumatic brain injury, a tumor or a lesion. MYTH: People with epilepsy are violent or insane. FACT: Very often seizure-related behaviors can be mistaken for mental health issues. Some epilepsy sufferers speak gibberish during a seizure, while others appear frightened, cannot speak or become agitated. However, this does not mean that person is violent or mentally unstable.
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MYTH: All seizures are medical emergencies. FACT: Brain damage rarely occurs from seizures, and a person can recover quickly afterward. It is not necessary to rush a person to the hospital at every sign of a seizure. However, if the seizure lasts for more than 10 minutes, call an ambulance. MYTH: Epilepsy is something that lasts a person’s whole life. FACT: More than half of all childhood forms of epilepsy are outgrown by adulthood, says the Epilepsy Foundation. About 60 percent of people who develop seizures have epilepsy that can be easily controlled and go away. When a person has been free of seizures for 1 to 3 years, medications may be withdrawn slowly. MYTH: Epilepsy is a barrier to success. FACT: A person with epilepsy can go on to live a successful, full and happy life. Various therapies are available, and with a positive outlook, epilepsy does not have to control one’s life.
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