EXERCISE AND MEMORY  (excerpted from NYTimes.com,  April 2013)

A new experiment suggests that regular exercise can substantially improve memory, although different types of exercise seem to affect the brain quite differently.

Scientists have been working to understand precisely how, at a molecular level, exercise improves memory, as well as whether all types of exercise, including weight training, are beneficial.

For the human study, published in The Journal  of Aging Research, scientists at the University of British Columbia recruited dozens of women ages 70 to 80 who had been found to have mild cognitive impairment, a condition that makes a person’s memory and thinking more muddled than would be expected at a given age.

Earlier, the same group of researchers had found that after weight training, older women with mild cognitive impairment improved their associative memory, or the ability to recall things in context.

Now the scientists wanted to look at more essential types of memory, and at endurance exercise as well. So they randomly assigned their volunteers to six months of supervised exercise. Some of the women lifted weights twice a week. Others briskly walked. And some, as a control measure, skipped endurance exercise and instead stretched and toned.

At the start and end of the six months, the women completed a battery of tests designed to study their verbal and spatial memory. Verbal memory is, among other things, your ability to remember words, and spatial memory is your remembrance of where things once were placed in space.

After six months, the women in the stretching group scored worse on the memory tests than they had at the start of the study. Their cognitive impairment had grown.

But the women who had exercised, either by walking or weight training, performed better on almost all of the cognitive tests after six months than they had before.

There were, however, differences. While both exercise groups improved almost equally on tests of spatial memory, the women who had walked showed greater gains in verbal memory than the women who had lifted weights.

What these findings suggest, the authors conclude, is that endurance training and weight training may have different physiological effects within the brain and cause improvements in different types of memory.

What all of this new research suggests, says Teresa Liu-Ambrose, an associate professor in the Brain Research Center at the University of British Columbia who oversaw the experiments with older women, is that for the most robust brain health, it’s probably advisable to incorporate both aerobic and resistance training. It seems that each type of exercise “selectively targets different aspects of cognition,” she says, probably by sparking the release of different proteins in the body and brain.

But, she continues, no need to worry if you choose to concentrate solely on aerobic or resistance training, at least in terms of memory improvements. The differences in the effects of each type of exercise were subtle, she says, while the effects of exercise — any exercise — on overall cognitive function were profound.

SOME PAIRS WERE JUST MEANT TO BE   (excerpted from IDEA Fitness Journal May 2013)

Over the past few decades, nutrition scientists have produced a dizzying amount of data on the healing powers of individual food components such as lycopene, vitamin D and omega fatty acids. Lately, however, the white coats are catching on that such molecular marvels often have an even stronger impact when they’re not working alone.

Food synergy occurs when individual components within foods work together in the body to maximize health and training benefits.  The total is greater than the sum of the parts. To get more nutritional bang from your meals and snacks, pair up these power foods:

Avocado and Green Salads – pairing a vegetable salad with a source of good fat (i.e. avocados) bolsters our absorption of important fat-soluble antioxidant carotenoids such as eye-protecting lutein in dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale and Swiss chard.

Whole Grain Cereal and Low-Fat Milk -The carbohydrates in cereal and the protein in milk appear to team up to give muscles what they need to recover after a workout.

Greek Yogurt and Hemp Seeds– A recent study determined that ingesting a dose of protein 30 minutes before bedtime helped promote muscle recovery in those who exercised earlier in the day. Strained Greek-style yogurt has twice as much protein as traditional yogurt, while hemp seeds contain more protein than other seeds, making this pairing an ideal bedtime nibble.

Spinach and Blueberries -The nitrate present in certain vegetables like leafy greens and beets helps muscles work more efficiently during exercise.  Further, the payload of antioxidants in blueberries has been postulated to ease muscle oxidative stress and inflammation in response to exercise.

Sardines and Ricotta Cheese -Calcium and vitamin D may help trim the fat. A  study showed that subjects who upped their intakes of these two nutrients experienced a greater loss in visceral abdominal fat than those who took in less.  The researchers surmised that higher intakes of calcium and vitamin D may stimulate fat metabolism. Sardines are among the few foods that provide good amounts of vitamin D, while protein-rich ricotta cheese is loaded with calcium.

Beans and Lemon – The various varieties of beans and lentils provide healthy doses of iron in a form called nonheme iron, which the body has a hard time absorbing. The solution? Vitamin C, found in vegetables and fruits such as lemon juice, can change the molecular structure of nonheme iron to make it more easily absorbed by the body.

Salmon and Tomatoes – Research suggests there is a synergy between the omega-3 fats found in salmon, and the phytochemicals in tomatoes. Data suggests that these omega-3s—found in fatty fish like salmon, sardines and trout—may stimulate muscle protein synthesis, helping to increase lean body mass.

Butternut Squash and Black Pepper – Black pepper, ginger and capsaicin (found in chili powder) seem to improve the intestinal absorption of beta-carotene, which functions as an antioxidant to help knock out cell-damaging free radicals.

Almonds and Kefir – Researchers discovered that fiber in the skin of almonds can increase the population of good-for-you bacteria in the digestive tract.  The fiber in almond skin appears to act as a prebiotic, so once consumed it provides a food source for the beneficial probiotics found in “alive” foods such as kefir, yogurt, miso and sauerkraut so that they can multiply and outnumber unfriendly critters.