Today’s Headlines: The Effects of Exercise on the Brain, the Link Between Concussions and Suicide, and How Education May Improve Dementia Statistics

Middle-aged people who do not frequently exercise may have lower brain volume over time. Brains shrink as they age and this fact may be unavoidable. However, recent research suggests certain things can speed up the shrinking: “the new findings add inactivity to a growing list of factors like smoking, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure that are thought to accelerate the process… The study included 1,583 people enrolled in the long-running Framingham Heart Study who took a treadmill test to assess their fitness levels…two decades later, people with below average fitness in the first test had smaller total brain volume than the others. Each 8 mL/kg/min of exercise capacity below the average performance level in the first test was associated with enough reduction in brain volume by the end of the study to amount to two extra years of brain aging, according to the results in Neurology.” The study urged older people to start to exercise—at least 2-3 hours per week—to prevent any rapid aging. (Fox)

Concussions could increase the likelihood of suicide. While brain trauma has always been considered one of the symptoms of suicide risk, concussions have recently been added as a risk factor. “The suicide rate in Ontario, Canada, where the study was conducted, is approximately nine per 100,000 people, according to the study. In the U.S. as a whole, it’s about 12 per 100,000 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study conducted in Ontario gathered information on 235,110 individuals who had a history of concussion over a 20-year period, from 1992 to 2012. In the group there were 667 subsequent suicides — equivalent to 31 deaths per 100,000 people, or three times the suicide rate in the population as a whole, researchers found.” Risk increased exponentially with the increase number of concussions a person had. (ABC)

The risk of dementia could be correlated to education. A new study has shown that having a high school education, among other factors, may delay dementia. “The study, published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, provides the strongest evidence to date that a more educated population and better cardiovascular health are contributing to a decline in new dementia cases over time, or at least helping more people stave off dementia for longer.” More research needs to be done, however, since this study was only performed in one suburban area with a small population that was mostly of the same race. (NYT)