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Walking to work or doing the vacuuming can extend your life

One in 12 deaths could be prevented with 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week. That’s the conclusion from the world’s largest study of physical activity, which analysed data from more than 130,000 people across 17 countries. At the start of the study, participants provided information on their socioeconomic status, lifestyle behaviours and medical history. They also answered a questionnaire about the physical activity they complete over a typical week. Participants were followed-up at least every three years to record information about cardiovascular disease and death for almost seven years. Over the period studied, Scott Lear, from McMaster University in Canada and his colleagues found that 150 minutes of activity per week reduced the risk of death from any cause by 28 per cent and rates of heart disease by a fifth. Being highly active was associated with even greater benefits: people who spent more than 750 minutes walking briskly each week reduced their risk of premature death by 36 per cent. Results showed that it was not necessary to run, swim or work out at the gym. Household chores such as vacuuming or scrubbing the floor, or merely walking to work provided enough exercise to protect the heart and extend life. “Going to the gym is great, but we only have so much time we can spend there. If we can walk to work, or at lunch time, that will help too,” says Lear.

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Dogs' social skills linked to oxytocin sensitivity

The tendency of dogs to seek contact with their owners is associated with genetic variations in sensitivity for the hormone oxytocin, according to a new study from Linköping University, Sweden. The results have been published in the scientific journal Hormones and Behavior and contribute to our knowledge of how dogs have changed during their development from wolf to household pet. During their domestication from their wild ancestor the wolf to the pets we have today, dogs have developed a unique ability to work together with humans. One aspect of this is their willingness to "ask for help" when faced with a problem that seems to be too difficult. There are, however, large differences between breeds, and between dogs of the same breed. A research group in Linköping, led by Professor Per Jensen, has discovered a possible explanation of why dogs differ in their willingness to collaborate with humans....The results showed that dogs with a particular genetic variant of the receptor reacted more strongly to the oxytocin spray than other dogs. The tendency to approach their owner for help increased when they received oxytocin in their nose, compared with when they received the neutral salt water solution. The researchers suggest that these results help us understand how dogs have changed during the process of domestication. They analysed DNA also from 21 wolves, and found the same genetic variation among them. This suggests that the genetic variation was already present when domestication of the dogs started, 15,000 years ago. "The results lead us to surmise that people selected for domestication wolves with a particularly well-developed ability to collaborate, and then bred subsequent generations from these," says Mia Persson.


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Want to Take Better Notes? Ditch the Laptop for a Pen and Paper, Says Science

The research was conducted with college students. Some were allowed to take notes during a lecture on a laptop and others had to go old school and write with a pen. Surprisingly, the students who took notes with pen and paper remembered far more than their peers who had a laptop. In addition, in a follow up scenario, both sets of students were allowed to go back to their notes and use them as cheat sheets when asked to talk about the key points from the lecture. In this case also, the students who wrote notes with pen and paper did better. So what was happening? First and most obviously, those with laptops were tempted to do other things on the computer which simply wasn't an option for the pen and paper group. By default, the pen and paper crowd was listening more intently to the lecture. In addition, there was a surprising correlation between how much the students wrote down and how much they remembered, and it was the reverse of what you might think. The laptop group had much more detailed notes. They could keep up better simply because you can type faster than you can write. More words didn't translate into better retention, though. They spent less time really thinking about the words and more time trying to type verbatim what they heard. The pen and paper group, on the other hand, wrote down far less but had to think about what they were choosing to write. It turns out that act of thinking about what was being written was a key part of the way the information got absorbed better into their brains.
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Yoga and meditation improve brain function and energy levels

Practicing brief sessions of Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation can significantly improve brain function and energy levels, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo. The study found that practicing just 25 minutes of Hatha yoga or mindfulness meditation per day can boost the brain's executive functions, cognitive abilities linked to goal-directed behavior and the ability to control knee-jerk emotional responses, habitual thinking patterns and actions. "Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation both focus the brain's conscious processing power on a limited number of targets like breathing and posing, and also reduce processing of nonessential information," said Peter Hall, associate professor in the School of Public Health & Health Systems. "These two functions might have some positive carryover effect in the near- term following the session, such that people are able to focus more easily on what they choose to attend to in everyday life."
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Highly precise wiring in the cerebral cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the cerebral cortex of mammals, where, among other things, vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are computed. Here, the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space. The researchers report online in Nature that synapses in this region of the brain are sorted very precisely along the electrical cables of the nerve cells. The nerve cells establish an unexpectedly precise circuit motive in which inhibitory nerve cells are contacted before the activation of the next nerve cell can be executed. This motif of nerve cell "trios" is a core connectivity motif in the cerebral cortex. Scientists speculate that such a highly precise circuit motive could be used for computing hypotheses about the next step in space. Connectomics researchers have now used their repertoire of measuring and analysis techniques to study the part of the cerebral cortex in which grid cells provide a very particular representation of the space around the individual animal or human. These grid cells are active when the animal or human is located at highly ordered grid-like locations in a room or a large space. Previously, scientists had already found a special arrangement of nerve cells in this region of the brain, and had speculated that within these special cell assemblies, particular nerve cell circuits could exist.
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Exercise can make cells healthier, promoting longer life, study finds

No surprise, but a good reminder.

Whether it's running, walking, cycling, swimming or rowing, it's been well-known since ancient times that doing some form of aerobic exercise is essential to good health and well-being. You can lose weight, sleep better, fight stress and high blood pressure, improve your mood, plus strengthen bones and muscles. "Whether muscle is healthy or not really determines whether the entire body is healthy or not," said Zhen Yan of the University of Virginia School of Medicine. "And exercise capacity, mainly determined by muscle size and function, is the best predictor of mortality in the general population." But why? Yan might have some answers. He and colleagues at UVA are peering inside the cell to understand, at a molecular level, why that workout – like it or not – is so vital to the body. They found that one important benefit involves the cellular power plant – the mitochondria – which creates the fuel so the body can function properly.
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Neuron types in brain are defined by gene activity shaping their communication patterns

In a major step forward in research, scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) today publish in Cell a discovery about the molecular-genetic basis of neuronal cell types. Neurons are the basic building blocks that wire up brain circuits supporting mental activities and behavior. The study, which involves sophisticated computational analysis of the messages transcribed from genes that are active in a neuron, points to patterns of cell-to-cell communication as the core feature that makes possible rigorous distinctions among neuron types across the mouse brain. The team, led by CSHL Professor Z. Josh Huang, likens their discovery to the way communication styles and patterns enable us to learn important—definitive—things about people. "To figure out who I am," says Anirban Paul, Ph.D., the paper's first author, "you can learn a great deal by studying with whom and how I communicate. When I call my grandma, do I use an app or a phone? How do I speak to her, in terms of tone? How does that compare with when I communicate with my son, or my colleague?" Using six genetically identifiable types of cortical inhibitory neurons that all release the neurotransmitter GABA, the team sought to discover factors capable of distinguishing their core molecular features. Using a high-resolution RNA sequencing method optimized by Paul and computational tools developed by CSHL Assistant Professor Jesse Gillis and colleague Megan Crow, Ph.D., the team searched for families of genes whose activity exhibited characteristic patterns in each neuron type
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Experimental brain technology can rewind Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer's disease is considered a global challenge of the century. Alzheimer's disease is a thief. It comes and takes away the most precious memories with which people identify themselves. It is a very clever thief. People whom it affects don't even remember what they have lost—they just feel lost; lost in space and time. Alzheimer's can affect anybody: intellectuals, professors, artists, musicians and handymen. My mother's Alzheimer's motivated me to start the very first Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) treatment for Alzheimer's in Canada. The treatment is a non-invasive procedure that doesn't involve any medication. This technology has been used to successfully treat depression, and it is also being studied for a number of other neurological conditions (for example, Parkinson's, concussion and stroke). In rTMS, an electromagnetic coil is placed on the scalp and uses magnetic pulses to cause neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to activate. The goal is to train the neurons to perform better in the future. The rTMS treatment has no, or only mild side effects: some people report a slight headache that is easily treated with a pain relief pill. And the risk of seizure is very low. (Individuals with a history of epilepsy and/or seizures are excluded from rTMS treatments for that reason.)
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Physically active mid-lifers more likely to be active into old age

No surprise, but a good reminder.

Men who are physically active in mid-life are more likely to continue the habit into older age as well, finds a long term tracking study published in the online journal BMJ Open. Playing sport is the physical activity most likely to stand the test of time, the findings show, prompting the researchers to suggest that encouraging early and sustained participation in sports might help people to stay active in old age. The health benefits of being physically active throughout the life course are well known, but the transition from mid-life to old age often coincides with major life events, such as retirement, when both the amount and frequency of exercise are likely to change, say the researchers.
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Sleep deprivation is an effective anti-depressant for nearly half of depressed patients

Sleep deprivation—typically administered in controlled, inpatient settings—rapidly reduces symptoms of depression in roughly half of depression patients, according the first meta-analysis on the subject in nearly 30 years, from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Partial sleep deprivation (sleep for three to four hours followed by forced wakefulness for 20-21 hours) was equally as effective as total sleep deprivation (being deprived of sleep for 36 hours), and medication did not appear to significantly influence these results. The results are published today in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Although total sleep deprivation or partial sleep deprivation can produce clinical improvement in depression symptoms within 24 hours, antidepressants are the most common treatment for depression. Such drugs typically take weeks or longer to experience results, yet 16.7 percent of 242 million U.S. adults filled one or more prescriptions for psychiatric drugs in 2013. The findings of this meta-analysis hope to provide relief for the estimated 16.1 million adults who experienced a major depressive episode in 2014. Previous studies have shown rapid antidepressant effects from sleep deprivation for roughly 40-60 percent of individuals, yet this response rate has not been analyzed to obtain a more precise percentage since 1990 despite more than 75 studies since then on the subject. "More than 30 years since the discovery of the antidepressant effects of sleep deprivation, we still do not have an effective grasp on precisely how effective the treatment is and how to achieve the best clinical results," said study senior author Philip Gehrman, PhD, an associate professor of Psychiatry and member of the Penn Sleep Center, who also treats patients at the Cpl. Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center. "Our analysis precisely reports how effective sleep deprivation is and in which populations it should be administered."
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