Jeanne Tripplehorn 06.10.1963

Posts Tagged ‘brain cells’

How Exercise Could Lead to a Better Brain: Not Saying We Told You So

4.20.12

 

More news about how exercise is so great for your brain!

 

Check out this week’s New York Times Magazine for a great piece on how exercise can actually make you smarter! Yes, even for those of us with Menopaused Minds!


Menopause Mind Proof: Not Losing Memory, But Brain Works Harder

12.8.11

Although we’ve been convinced that the Menopause Mind is real for a while now, hence this blog, finding empirical support for the connection between menopause and memory declines has been as easy as finding those car keys you left in the fridge.

 

Well, it seems like we’re both right and wrong. The Los Angeles Times just ran an piece on the findings of a recent study designed to examine whether or not post-menopausal women complaining of memory problems performed significantly worse on memory tests than women who did not share these complaints.  Researchers at the University of Vermont and Vanderbilt used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to examine the brain activity of 22 women while they worked on various memory tasks. It turns out that the performance of the 12 women who complained of memory problems on these tests was no different from that of the 10 women who claimed that their memory was fine.

But, the researcher’s also found that the brains of the complainers were much more active than the non-complainers. Specifically, the action was increased in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in intellectual functioning and working memory, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which is involved in a variety of autonomic  functions (think blood pressure,  heart rate) and cognitive functioning including decision making, learning and emotion.

 

So, what does this mean for you? Even though you feel like your memory is shot  (the subjective experience of menopause mind), it may not really be that bad (your objective memory ability), but your brain is probably working overtime to compensate for memory slips.  To us, this translates to the following:  if you feel like you have memory problems, they probably exist, but your brain kicks into high gear to make up for them. Keep in mind that this study was done with 22 women, all of whom were post-menopausal. They did not compare post-menopausal women with pre-menopausal women  This does not yet support the theory that physiological changes during menopause cause memory deficits. But it seems we’re one step closer to grasping the workings of the mind’s mysterious metamorphosis during and after menopause than we had been–although not entirely there.

 

The LA Times piece also includes a discussion of the findings from another recent study that examined hormone changes and brain matter. To put it very simply, they examined the brains of women before and after a brief round of hormone therapy (increased estrogen). They found an increase in the density of grey matter after hormone therapy. This suggests that hormones may influence brain’s functioning by playing a role in how much grey matter–the more grey matter, the better your cognitive functioning. But it’s still unclear what exactly is going on.  The University of Vermont and Vanderbilt researchers plan to test hormone therapy as a way to improve memory among the complainers.  Or, maybe they’ll just get them to stop complaining. We’ll keep you posted.

Save Your Menopause Brain and Combat Anxiety

2.2.11

Have you become a worry wart? Are you feeling more antsy lately? Well, you’re not alone. Women often complain that as they hit menopause they generally feel more anxious.  Some women get angry at themselves and think that by now they should have their act together. By 50 they should be getting better at managing life’s ups and downs – not worse! Well, even if there aren’t too many downs and plenty of ups, there’s a biological reason for increased jitters. The increase in anxiety is typically attributed to changes in estrogen and progesteron, hormones which have been shown to buffer against the body’s response to stress. After menopause, these hormones just don’t protect against stress like they used to.


Stress isn’t just bad for you mood…it’s bad for your brain, too. When you experience stress, your brain produces steroids to communicate to the rest of your body that there’s a problem. If these steroids stick around too long, they can literally kill your brain cells – especially those in the hippocampus (Remember? It’s the part of your brain that is super critical for memory). Over time, stress may even result in a wasting away or shrinking of the hippocampus.


When you already feel like your mind is turning to mush thanks to menopause, who wants to lose a single cell of their hippocampus??


The good news is that you can combat the effects of stress on your brain through… exercise! Yes, exercise, again.

Research suggests that aerobic exercise can make you less anxious. It looks like the brain cells you produce while exercising are better at dealing with stress.  The bad news is that it takes awhile to produce these stress-resistant cells. For rats, it took somewhere between three and six weeks. It’s still unknown how long it takes for humans.


If you know that you’ll be facing something stressful in the next month or two (like paying taxes or results from your kid’s college applications), do yourself a favor and protect your hippocampus. Start exercising now to get your brain into combat shape!

Improve Your Menopause Memory With Exercise

1.29.11

If you think that as you get older your brain cells slowly die and there is nothing that you can do about it – you’re wrong!


There is a way to create new brain cells … aerobic exercise!


Aerobic exercise can create new brain cells in the region of the brain that is critical for memory – the hippocampus. It’s the hippocampus where learning new information and retaining it takes place.  In fact, it’s where Alzheimer’s disease begins.


The Salk Institute in La Jolla can be thanked for discovering the initial link between exercise and new brain cell growth.  Researchers compared adult mice who ran on hamster wheels to those who didn’t. The mice who ran on the wheels developed significantly more new brain cells in the hippocampus.


But the key here is that the exercise must be aerobic!


To  improve your menopause memory you need to get out there and huff and puff.  Increasing blood flow and getting oxygen to the brain is how this all works. With increased blood flow to the brain comes more oxygen and more growth factors from all over the body that contribute to the birth of new cells, including brain cells. And, as I tell my patients, walking the dog and stopping at every tree doesn’t count as aerobic. You’ve got to break a sweat at least 150 minutes a week. This can be broken up into smaller chunks of time, like  20-25 mintues a day or 50 minutes three times a week. For brain cell growth, the magic really seems to happen after exercising regularly between 3 and 6 weeks.


Now, I know exercise is not everyone’s cup of tea– finding the right form exercise is critical to both staying injury-free and motivated. My favorite form of aerobic exercise is the elliptical machine. It was designed to be easy on the knees and you can use it rain or shine.  With your arms and legs going and your ipod plugged into 80s music, you can feel like you’re dancing.  The problem is that you may also feel like singing.  As my husband likes to point out, I may be wearing headphones but he isn’t.  If you have balance problems or physical difficulties, you can try a recumbent elliptical machine.  You sit while working out so there’s no danger of falling. My patients have told me that they used them in physical therapy and were hooked in no time. If you have access to a pool (an indoor pool if you’re in those chilly climates), you can also try jogging in the water.


When the weather is nice (or if you don’t want to buy a piece of exercise equipment that costs more than your first car)  power walking is a great form of aerobic exercise. Bend those arms, pump them like pistons, bend the knees and step lightly heel to toe to save your knees.  You may look like you urgently need a restroom, but just think of those new brain cells…and toned legs!


So stop complaining about your menopause memory, get an okay from your doctor and get out there! Aerobic exercise is one of the best things you can do for to keep your brain fit.