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Exercise may enhance brain function in older adults

Playing a round of golf or going for a walk may improve brain function in older people, a new study has revealed.

The study involved 25 people aged 65 and above who participated in three different activities: an 18-hole golf round, a 6km Nordic walking session and a 6km regular walking session.

The researchers, from the University of Eastern Finland, the University of Edinburgh and ETH Zürich, used specific tests to measure the participants’ cognitive function. They also took blood samples to measure brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and cathepsin B (CTSB) levels, which reflect the benefits of exercise in the brain.

The study showed that a single session of any of the three exercises improved lower cognitive functions, such as attention and processing speed, but no significant effects were seen on the levels of BDNF and CTSB. Nordic walking and regular walking were associated with enhanced cognitive functions such as task-switching ability.

Julia Kettinen, the first author of the article, said: "These findings underscore the value of age-appropriate aerobic exercise, such as golf, Nordic walking and regular walking, in maintaining and enhancing cognitive function among older adults." The findings were published in BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine.

Lack of social connection linked to a higher risk of death

A lack of social connection may contribute to a higher risk of death, new research has shown. Previous research has shown that insufficient levels of different types of social connection, like feeling lonely or not seeing friends and family often, are associated with the risk of premature death. But this new study, which was led by the University of Glasgow, found that lacking multiple forms of social connection further increased the risk of dying prematurely.

The research, which was published in BMC Medicine, focused on 458,146 people with an average age of 57. The findings showed that those who lived alone and who also lacked other markers of social connection (such as having infrequent contact with friends and family or not participating in regular group activities), may be at a particularly high risk of dying.

Dr Hamish Foster, Clinical Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow’s School of Health and Wellbeing, said: "Our study looks at several dimensions of social connection and found that combining different dimensions could affect the risk of premature death more than previously realised. This means that, when tackling problems like loneliness and social isolation, we need to assess these different dimensions both separately and in combination if we are going to identify and support those who are most isolated in society."

Did you know?

According to the climate action NGO, WRAP, households across the UK throw away 300,000 tonnes of meat and fish a year, costing £3.2 billion. Potatoes, cooked leftovers (homemade/pre-prepared meals), and bread top the UK’s wasted food table.

Prenatal vitamin D may reduce risk of asthma in children

Vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy may reduce rates of asthma and wheezing in children compared to a standard prenatal multivitamin, a new review has demonstrated. The review was carried out by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Vitamin D is a nutrient from sunlight exposure, diet, or supplements. It is commonly considered essential to bone health but also has a role in autoimmune and other illnesses. The review links vitamin D deficiency to childhood asthma and wheezing, a major cause of illness in young children. About 40 per cent of children report daily wheezing at age three. By age 6, 20 per cent are diagnosed with asthma.

"Vitamin D deficiency is very common, especially in pregnant women who are not taking supplements," said study first author Scott T Weiss. "Based on our findings, we would recommend that all pregnant women consider a daily intake of at least 4,400 IU vitamin D3 throughout their pregnancy, starting at the time of conception."

Cutting out salt may lower blood pressure

According to a new study, almost everyone can reduce their blood pressure by reducing their sodium intake.

The study was carried out by researchers from Northwestern Medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

"In the study, middle-aged to elderly participants reduced their salt intake by about one teaspoon a day compared with their usual diet," explained Deepak Gupta, MD, associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and co-principal investigator. "The result was a decline in systolic blood pressure by about six millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), which is comparable to the effect produced by a commonly utilised first-line medication for high blood pressure."

"We found that 70 to 75 per cent of all people, regardless of whether they are already on blood pressure medications or not, are likely to see a reduction in their blood pressure if they lower the sodium in their diet," added co-principal investigator Norrina Allen, PhD.

The findings were published in the journal JAMA.

Research highlights the importance of fibre

New research from the University of Minnesota has highlighted the importance of including fibre in our diets.

The researchers discovered that each plant source of insoluble fibre contains unique bioactives – compounds that have been linked to lower incidences of cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes – offering potential health benefits beyond those of the fibre itself.

The findings revealed that a variety of plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains contain insoluble dietary fibre, and each source contains unique bioactives that support health in different ways. Desirable bioactives like quercetin, resveratrol, catechins, anthocyanins, lutein, lycopene and beta-carotene were found in a variety of plant foods that also contain insoluble dietary fibre.

The researchers also found that plant sources with bioactives and insoluble dietary fibre could be used to fortify processed foods to increase their nutritional value. Food production by-products such as peel, hulls, pulp or pomace are generally high in fibre and bioactives and therefore offer unique nutritional value from sustainable sources.

Lead author Madeline Timm commented: "Continued research and broad inclusion of bioactives in foods and supplements can have a real impact on human health."

The study was published in the journal Nutrients.