Archives for the month of: December, 2014

AEROBIC EXERCISE GROWS YOUR BRAIN

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¬†east-york-runners-600_1000171121[TORONTO] For 20 years now[1], we’ve known that our supposedly all-grown-up adult brains are still birthing their own baby neurons, right through adult life (at least in certain key regions) to help keep us keep learning, growing and doing what matters most.¬† But more recently, we’ve learned that the biggest factor seems to be aerobic exercise. [2,3] This comes as no surprise to active members of running clubs. Stimulating convo’s and upbeat vibes are always in good supply. But did you know how many different ways running grows your brain? Neurogenesis, as it’s called, has many benefits.

Mood. ‘In clinical trials’ regular aerobic exercise usually relieves depression at least as well as an¬†antidepressant drug ‚Äď but let’s be clear that sometimes,¬†in the darkest days of our lives,

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any one of us might just need both at once, in addition to good friends and family (and-or professional help). We used to think this was due to so-called ‘happy chemicals’ (sort of internal opiate drugs) but new brain cells seem to have at least as much to do with it.

Spatial Memory. What steps should I retrace, and to how many places, to find my keys? You’re less likely to lose them in the first place (AND find them if you must) because you’ve kept on running (or doing any aerobics.)¬† By the way, this probably applies to all kinds of memory, because it all happens in an increasingly famous brain region called the hippocampus. (To remember that word, if you accept that ‘elephants never forget,’ now tag on another pachyderm: ‘Hippos learn like they’re carrying the damn campus on their backs.’)

Pattern Separation and Anxiety Telling a safe situation apart from an unsafe one is a big part of reducing anxiety. When we get new brain cells (say it with me ‚Äďin the hippocampus) our pattern separation skills go up. We can ditch nasty associations and just chill, more easily.

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For parents, you’ll see more- easily when your child is feeling needy but not just trying to wind you up (though they have at times) and free your mind to quickly think of a nice redirection they can enjoy with you. (Now you can do that ‘catch them being good’ thing!) For singles, take a chance going out with that nice respectable individual who just happens to have many of the same mannerisms as Mr. or Ms. Wish-I-Could-Forget-Them but clearly a healthier, giving¬† approach to life.

Learning It stands to reason that  any boost in memory is a boost in learning. Post-secondary students in general have stress levels higher than the working population. They have to manage not only the constant adjustment to new learning situations and groups of people but life goals that depend upon those adjustments.

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They work too late, some party too much in an attempt to decrease stress, and ALL face make-it or break-it evaluations. Aerobic exercise may seem like it doesn’t fit anywhere in the schedule. Yet, when students make it fit, everything in that schedule becomes easier to manage.

Trauma reduction? Could using aerobic exercise to naturally maximize¬† neuro-genesis help us ¬†address the epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans, first responders and car accident victims?¬† There is some preliminary evidence to suggest it may work.¬† The fact that we lose a lot of our earliest, childhood memories is thought to be a reflection of so much early neurogenesis that our young minds just can’t keep up the work of constantly re-organizing those memories before they get over-written by new, neural circuits, as they integrate into our existing ones. While good trauma therapies do exist, there aren’t nearly enough highly-trained practition-ers. Even then, single-method¬† therapies can fail sufferers of severe PTSD, terribly. For traumatized vets brave enough to continue their education, the threats to

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completion of their program can be enormous. As a general principle in therapies, adding a second and third method, especially with no bar to starting them all at once, can make all the difference. For those who have bravely protected us, and now themselves deserve to feel safe again too, let us hope so.

Aging While aerobic exercise is not quite a fountain of youth, working up a good sweat three or four times a week might just be the closest thing to those mythic waters. It will not cover-off the many likely causes of dementia, but it is sure to reduce several risk factors once: risk of stroke, falls and concussions, depression (which interacts with dementia) and social isolation.

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What more could you ask of a single preventative method?

You want a medal too?

Wait!‚ÄĒMaybe we can arrange that!

(References follow, below.)

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References

1 Cameron,H.A.,and Gould,E.(1994). Adult neurogenesis is regulated by adrenal steroids in the dentate gyrus. Neuroscience 61, 203‚Äď209.

2 Vadodaria, K.C. & Jessberger, S. (2014). Functional neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus: then and now. Frontiers in Neuroscience ; 27 March 2014 doi: 10.3389/ fnins.2014.00055

3 Mustroph, M.L., Chen, S., C. Desai, S.C., Cay, E.B., DeYoung, E.K. & Rhodes, J.S. (2012). Aerobic exercise is the critical variable in an enriched

environment that increases hippocampal neurogenesis and water maze learning in male C57BL/6J mice. Neuroscience. 2012 September 6; 219: 62‚Äď71.

4 Legrand, F.D. (2014). Effects of exercise on physical self-concept, global self-esteem, and depression in women of low socioeconomic status with elevated depressive symptoms.

Journal of Sport and Exercise Physiology 36(4):357-65

5 Kheirbek, M.A. & Hen, R. (2011).

Neuropsychopharmacology Reviews 36, 373‚Äď374

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Good news for undergrad seniors and graduates looking toward professional schools for next year and beyond. First, the following link explains the advance in LSAT accessibilty for talented future lawyers who have a learning disorder that will not restrict their capacity to practice:

Wall_Street_Journal_on_LSAC/LSAT_Settlement_by_US Department_of_Justice 

Similarly, MCAT examinations can be accommodated for learning disorders. ¬†“If you are a U.S. citizen, U.S. National, a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the United States (“Green Card” holder), or have been granted refugee/asylum status by the U.S. government. you can access financial assistance for psychological re-assessments, from the AAM.” ¬†Association_of_American_Medical_Colleges

But trust Educational Testing Service, I say, to go the extra mile. ETS not only offers a full array of relevant accommodations: Testing accommodations but also

helps you prepare more effectively:  GRE Test Preparation Materials in Accessible Formats

Returning to the terms of the LSAC settlement in June 2014, they do set a precedent that AAMC probably keeps in mind. Thanks to a colleague at Jewish Vocational Services for this summary:

(1) $7.7 million civic penalty for a victims’ compensation fund to compensate the “more than 6000 people who requested accommodations such as extra time” but were denied. (2) Streamlining accommodations requests, so that candidates with previous accommodations (such as SAT, ACT, GED) can be granted accommodations for the LSAT. (3) Ending the practice of “flagging” LSAT scores (i.e., indicating on the score report that accommodations were provided).

Yes, it remains a maze to negotiate, but less so, now. Those who clearly have the potential to be effective professionals should find the first watershed in their path considerably fairer.

If you have questions or would like to see about an appointment, feel free to use the contact form, below.