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Older people in good shape have fitter brains

Seventy- to eighty-year-olds who train for better fitness are better at solving cognitive tasks and are less likely to suffer cognitive impairment.

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“Our findings suggest that being fit can protect against mild cognitive impairment in older people,” says Ekaterina Zotcheva.

Just before Christmas, Zotcheva defended her doctoral dissertation on exercise and brain health at the  Norwegian University of Science and Technology, NTNU. The day before the defence, the last study for her doctoral degree was published in the highly regarded Sports Medicine journal.

The article is just one of three recent research articles from NTNU that show how important it is for the brain to stay in good physical shape as you get older. Common to all three articles is that they are based on data from the world’s largest training study for older adults, the Generation 100 study from the Cardiac Exercise Research Group.

Dementia risk

“The Generation 100 study has been going on for almost ten years now. After the study participants had been exercising for five years, we tested the cognitive function of almost 1000 of them.”

“The men and women who had maintained or increased their physical fitness during the study had better brain health than those whose fitness had declined over the five years,” says Zotcheva.

The cognitive test that the participants took is the same one that is often used to check whether people are at risk of developing dementia.

The test assesses short-term memory, execution function and the ability to orient oneself in time and space. Scoring below a certain number indicates a risk of mild cognitive impairment.

“We know that mild cognitive impairment can lead to dementia for some individuals. The greater the increase in a participant’s fitness level during the five years of the study, the lower their probability was of developing mild cognitive impairment,” says Zotcheva.

Better at problem solving

Good conditioning appears to be an important prerequisite for good brain function in the elderly in the other two research articles as well. In both of these studies, the researchers tested the brain health of more than 100 of the participants in the Generation 100 study at start-up and after one, three and five years of training.

“Participants who were in good shape, both when the study started and later in the study, had a faster reaction time. The ones who improved their fitness level gained a somewhat better working memory,” says NTNU professor Asta Håberg.

The ability to solve cognitive problems was tested using the web-based Memoro platform, which Håberg developed in collaboration with neuropsychologist Tor Ivar Hansen.

Less brain atrophy

Håberg has been involved in the work with all three recent research articles. In the third study, the researchers performed MRI scans of the participants’ brains to see how the brain volume and thickness of the cerebral cortex changed throughout the study. Here, too, the most energetic participants came out best.

“Participants who were in good shape when the study started had a thicker cerebral cortex after one, three and five years, as compared with those who had lower maximum oxygen uptake. But we didn’t find any effect from increasing fitness during the study,” says Håberg.

The cerebral cortex is the outermost layer of the brain and is important for several important brain functions, such as attention, ability to make choices, working memory, abstract thinking and memory. This part of the brain becomes thinner with age, and thinning of the cerebral cortex in different areas is linked to different types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia.

Fitness more important than type of exercise

All 70- to 77-year-olds in Trondheim were invited to the Generation 100 study in 2012. Those who agreed to participate were randomly assigned to five years of exercise of various kinds. One group would primarily do high intensity intervals, a second group would mainly go for walks or do other exercise with moderate intensity, and the last group would try to follow the activity recommendations of the health authorities to be physically active for at least 150 minutes each week.

The first two groups were followed up most closely by the researchers, and were offered two organized training sessions each week. The NTNU researchers looked beyond the connection between fitness and brain health and also investigated whether the type of training follow-up that participants received made a difference.

“Our results show that organized training follow-up may have given older men, but not older women, better cognitive function and lowered the probability of mild cognitive impairments. But all in all, it seems that the most important thing is that you actually train in a way that increases your fitness, regardless of whether you get organized help to be physically active or not,” says Zotcheva.

Less brain atrophy than expected

“In the groups that received follow-up with high-intensity training and training with moderate intensity, respectively, we found somewhat greater loss of brain volume in deep areas of the brain than among those who trained themselves. But we have to emphasize that everyone in the Generation 100 study – regardless of the form of exercise they did – had less brain loss than expected for people in their 70s. The group that trained on their own without organized follow-up had the least shrinkage in the hippocampus and thalamus,” Håberg says.

The training follow-up in Generation 100 was not decisive for the participants’ ability to solve cognitive tasks.

“The groups that were able to attend organized training didn’t perform any better than the group that trained on their own on various tasks, such as remembering where an object is located, memorizing words, processing information quickly or planning,” says Håberg.

Maintained good cognitive function

“It’s still worth noting that the 70-77-year-old participants on average had the same cognitive abilities after five years as at start-up, and that during the study period they even improved on some of the tests. The results show that being in good shape like the Generation 100 participants were, is important for maintaining good brain function,” Håberg says.

The training effect thus seems to be greatest for people who enter retirement age in good shape, and exercise that improves fitness can provide further benefits. So how should the elderly train to get in better shape?

“Several paths can lead to that goal, and the most important factor is to find an activity you enjoy and can continue with over time. In order to maintain or increase your fitness, you should in any case exercise regularly in a way that gets you out of breath and sweaty,” says Zotcheva.

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What you eat could contribute to your menstrual cramps

Roughly 90% of adolescent girls experience menstrual pain. Most use over-the-counter medicine to manage the pain but with limited positive results. Evidence has highlighted that diets high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in processed foods, oil, and sugar reduce inflammation, a key contributor to menstrual pain.

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Despite the fact that menstrual pain (dysmenorrhea) is the leading cause of school absences for adolescent girls, few girls seek treatment. An analysis of relevant studies suggests that diet may be a key contributor, specifically diets high in meat, oil, sugar, salt, and coffee, which have been shown to cause inflammation.

Roughly 90% of adolescent girls experience menstrual pain. Most use over-the-counter medicine to manage the pain but with limited positive results. Evidence has highlighted that diets high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in processed foods, oil, and sugar reduce inflammation, a key contributor to menstrual pain.

This analysis was designed to study the effect of diet on menstrual pain and identify which foods contribute to it and which can reduce it. Research was conducted through a literature review that found multiple studies that examined dietary patterns that resulted in menstrual pain. In general terms, these studies found that diets high in omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids reduce it. The muscles in the uterus contract because of prostaglandins, which are active in inflammatory responses. When measuring the Dietary Inflammatory Index, it was found that those on a vegan diet (that excluded animal fat) had the lowest rates of inflammation.

“Researching the effects of diet on menstrual pain started as a search to remedy the pain I personally experienced; I wanted to understand the science behind the association. Learning about different foods that increase and decrease inflammation, which subsequently increase or reduce menstrual pain, revealed that diet is one of the many contributors to health outcomes that is often overlooked. I am hopeful that this research can help those who menstruate reduce the pain they experience and shed light on the importance of holistic treatment options,” says Serah Sannoh, lead author of the poster presentation from Rutgers University.

“Since menstrual pain is a leading cause of school absenteeism for adolescent girls, it’s important to explore options that can minimize the pain. Something like diet modification could be a relatively simple solution that could provide substantial relief for them,” said Dr. Stephanie Faubion, NAMS medical director.

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Cultivating well-being in today’s evolving digital world

Manulife invites Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz to share lessons amid digitalization at IMMAP DigiCon Valley 2022.

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As Filipinos navigate today’s evolving digital world and adjust to life-changing disruptions brought by the pandemic, Manulife shared key lessons on how to cope with changes and cultivate one’s overall well-being at this year’s DigiCon Valley 2022, the largest gathering of the digital marketing and advertising industry in the country organized by the Internet & Mobile Marketing Association of the Philippines (IMMAP).

Headlining Manulife’s segment were Melissa Henson, Chief Marketing Officer of Manulife Philippines and Hidilyn Diaz, Olympic Gold Medalist and one of Manulife’s brand ambassadors, while actor and stand-up comedian Victor Anastacio served as the host.

At the DigiCon’s special segment, Henson and Diaz shared their insights and personal takeaways based on Manulife’s recently released study, “The Modern Filipino Family: Exploring Family Dynamics in the new normal.” The study aimed to understand how Filipino families adapted to the new normal, as hyper-digitalization has impacted relationships, and has been deeply imbued in everyday decisions at home and in family life.

Make time for self-care and mental wellness

Victor Anastacio started the discussion on the challenges Filipinos faced at the height of the pandemic. “Sobrang daming challenges ang kinaharap natin noong nagsimula ang pandemic – physical, emotional and financial challenges. Lahat ito nakaapekto sa ating pamilya, dahil sa maraming hindi pagkakaintindihan.”

These challenges still impact majority of Filipinos today. While people across generations have said that their well-being has improved compared to during the peak of the pandemic, Generation Zs expressed that they are still grappling with negative pandemic effects. Henson shared: “Our study found that 65% of Gen Zs are dealing with digital fatigue, prompting them to seek more offline interactions with friends and family. They also shared that they are sleep-deprived, developed unhealthy eating habits and have increased occurrence of stress, fatigue, and depression. These younger Filipinos may need further guidance on reacquainting themselves in the real world as they have spent most of their time online in the past two years.”

Younger Filipinos may also look to Generation X and millennials for inspiration and ideas on how to deal with stressors. “Gens X and Y have learned to focus on self-care, mental well-being, and personal development, which helped empower them despite the many changes they’ve had to weather,” Henson added. 

Diaz agreed and emphasized that caring for one’s mental health has a tangible impact on one’s physical well-being too. “When I started training for the Tokyo Olympics, I needed to condition my mind that I could win at hindi ako nag-iisa sa pag-abot ng pangarap na ito. Naging malaking part ng aking preparations ang mental training at eventually, ang ‘”ma-manifest” ko na makakuha ng gold medal.”

Learn to seek help when needed

According to Manulife’s study, more Filipinos have also explored various financial products during the pandemic. In the past 12 months, among those surveyed, 25% of Generation X and 33% of Millennials bought insurance products online, while 41% of Generation Z expressed a desire to purchase insurance in the next 12 months. To guide them in their financial journey and make more informed decisions, Henson emphasized the importance of seeking expert advice to help sift through the overwhelming wealth of information available.

“Seeing how more Filipinos are exploring various financial channels to diversify their portfolios is a good sign that they are actively seeking ways to grow their wealth. However, we will need to double down our efforts to provide them expert financial guidance, so they’ll also understand how to balance risk and reward,” Henson said. “Seeking advice from a financial advisor is one way to help Filipinos get a clearer picture of their financial goals and find ways to achieve them while being conscious of their risk appetites to yield better returns.”

To achieve the historic Olympic gold medal, Diaz also underscored the importance of asking for help, by having people around you whom you can rely on for support. “There is a team behind my success. Hindi ko kakayanin ito ng mag-isa. I needed the support of Team HD, Manulife, at ng aking mga kababayan.

Life has no guarantees, but we can get ahead of uncertainty

The pandemic showed how fast things can change, and Filipinos must be ready to keep up with the pace as it can accelerate further. Such mindset and attitude transcend to Filipinos’ heightened desire for protection and security. “The interest in insurance products and life protection increased during the pandemic because Filipinos became hyper aware of the physical and financial impact of falling ill, and the broader impact of other financial challenges. However, this has been a reactive stance. The power of insurance and financial planning is that it helps us prepare for the unexpected before it happens, so we continue to encourage and empower Filipinos to embrace the value of planning ahead and being financially prepared,” said Henson.

To help Filipinos better prepare for uncertainty, Manulife launched a series of flexible and highly customizable financial solutions that can be tailor-fit depending on needs and budget — HealthFlex, which provides protection coverage for critical illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, and stroke; and FutureBoost, which gives additional rewards on top of insurance protection coverage so Filipinos can grow their wealth simultaneously.

As change is inevitable and developments can be beyond our control, Henson noted that it helps to live by an attitude of lifelong learning. “We are all learning creatures. We always find ways to retool ourselves to better cope with the changes in our environment, which is crucial to making us more resilient.”

Diaz added that just as essential is acquiring knowledge on how to plan ahead. “Having a strong foundation sa kung paano mag-plano para ma-achieve ang financial goals ay crucial para sa kinabukasan natin. Mahalaga na maging mas aware ka sa mga financial options available as early as possible para mas maintindihan ang mga kailangang gawin to achieve your goals. Once you decide to grow your investments, you’ll be more consistent with your decisions to make every day better.”

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Pfizer had no idea if mRNA vaccine would prevent COVID-19 transmission

Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company expected to become a $100 billion giant this year thanks to COVID-19 drug and vaccine, has admitted that it actually had no idea if its mRNA vaccine would prevent transmission of the coronavirus when they released the same.

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Photo by Daniel Schludi from Unsplash.com

Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company expected to become a $100 billion giant this year thanks to COVID-19 drug and vaccine, has admitted that it actually had no idea if its mRNA vaccine would prevent transmission of the coronavirus when they released the same.

One of Pfizer’s top executives, the company’s president of international development markets, Janine Small, stated this when she testified before the COVID committee of the European Parliament. Small was there in place of Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla who tested positive for COVID-19 again.

In the exchange that happened in the committee hearing, a Dutch member of the European Parliament asked Small if there is evidence from Pfizer that showed that the vaccine it developed would prevent transmission prior to its wide release in late 2020.

“Was the Pfizer COVID vaccine tested on stopping the transmission of the virus before it entered the market? If not, please say it clearly. If yes, are you willing to share the data with this committee?” the member of parliament specifically asked.

The executive answered: “Regarding the question around, did we know about stopping immunization before it entered the market? No.”

Small added that “we had to really move at the speed of science to really understand what is taking place in the market. And from that point of view, we had to do everything at risk.”

The Dutch politician said that messaging in the past focused on getting vaccinated to one does not spread COVID-19. “If you don’t get vaccinated, you’re anti-social! This is what the Dutch prime minister and health minister told us. You don’t get vaccinated just for yourself, but also for others — you do it for all of society. That’s what they said. Today, this turns out to be complete nonsense.”

The politician said he found the revelations “shocking, even criminal.”

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