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Scientists communicate with man in coma

Seeing into our Minds

Scans of Mental Imagery TasksScientists can now see into the mind and 'thoughts' of a brain-damaged man. By using new brain scanning technology they were able to determine that a patient in a vegetative state could understand and respond to their requests.

Brain Activity in Disorders of Consciousness

The study which, appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, demonstrates that with the help of brain scans it can be determined if someone, thought to be unaware of the external world, is aware or not. The study showed that some of those apparently in a coma, are actually awake, but without self-awareness, due to their brain damage. The above study reported that,

"One patient was able to use our technique to answer yes or no to questions during functional MRI; however, it remained impossible to establish any form of communication at the bedside."

Published at www.nejm.org February 3, 2010 (10.1056/NEJMoa0905370)

Exercise fuels the brain's stress buffers

The article below is excerpted from the American Psychological Association help center. I thought you might find it interesting to learn directly what the psychology profession believes about the positive impact of exercise on stress.

Exercise fuels the brain's stress buffers

Exercise may improve mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress, according to research into the effect of exercise on neurochemicals involved in the body's stress response.

Preliminary evidence suggests that physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression than sedentary people. But little work has focused on why that should be. So to determine how exercise might bring about its mental health benefits, some researchers are looking at possible links between exercise and brain chemicals associated with stress, anxiety, and depression.

So far there's little evidence for the popular theory that exercise causes a rush of endorphins. Rather, one line of research points to the less familiar neuromodulator norepinephrine, which may help the brain deal with stress more efficiently.

Work in animals since the late 1980s has found that exercise increases brain concentrations of norepinephrine in brain regions involved in the body's stress response.

Norepinephrine is particularly interesting to researchers because 50 percent of the brain's supply is produced in the locus coeruleus, a brain area that connects most of the brain regions involved in emotional and stress responses. The chemical is thought to play a major role in modulating the action of other, more prevalent neurotransmitters that play a direct role in the stress response. And although researchers are unsure of exactly how most antidepressants work, they know that some increase brain concentrations of norepinephrine.

But some psychologists don't think it's a simple matter of more norepinephrine equals less stress and anxiety and therefore less depression. Instead, they think exercise thwarts depression and anxiety by enhancing the body's ability to respond to stress.

Biologically, exercise seems to give the body a chance to practice dealing with stress. It forces the body's physiological systems - all of which are involved in the stress response - to communicate much more closely than usual: The cardiovascular system communicates with the renal system, which communicates with the muscular system. And all of these are controlled by the central and sympathetic nervous systems, which also must communicate with each other. This workout of the body's communication system may be the true value of exercise; the more sedentary we get, the less efficient our bodies in responding to stress.

Thanks to Rod K. Dishman, PhD, of the University of Georgia, and Mark Sothmann, PhD, of Indiana University's School of Medicine and School of Allied Health Sciences.

Why Exercise Makes You Less Anxious

Exercise Creates new Brain Cells

Researchers at Princeton University recently made a remarkable discovery about how neurons respond differently to stress than to inactivity. Scientists have known for some time that exercise stimulates the creation of new brain cells (neurons) but not how, precisely, these neurons might be functionally different from other brain cells.

Exercise creates a Calm Brain

Preliminary results presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Chicago, showed that experimental rats had created, through running, a brain that seemed biochemically, molecularly, calm when presented with stressful situations.

Downward dog in an Ashtanga Yoga Class

How Exercise Remodels the Brain

For years, it has been a given that exercise enhances mood. But how exercise might directly affect mood and anxiety — psychological states — was unclear. Now, thanks to improved research techniques scientists are beginning to tease out how exercise remodels the brain, making it more resistant to stress. At the University of Colorado, Boulder, scientists have examined the role of the neurotransmitter serotonin, considered to be the “happy” brain chemical. The view of serotonin has been undermined by this and other research. In those experiments, rats exposed to a laboratory stressor, showed increased serotonin activity in their brains. But those rats, that had run for several weeks before being stressed, showed less serotonin activity and were less anxious and helpless despite the stress.

Moderate Exercise reduces Effects of Oxidative Stress

Researchers have looked at how exercise alters the activity of the dopamine neurotransmitter in the brain, and on the antioxidant powers of moderate exercise. Anxiety in people has been linked with excessive oxidative stress, which can lead to cell death, including in the brain. Moderate exercise, appears to reduce the effects of oxidative stress. In an experiment at the University of Houston, rats whose oxidative-stress levels had been artificially increased were extremely anxious when faced with unfamiliar terrain during laboratory testing. But rats that had exercised, even if they had received the oxidizing chemical, were relatively calm under stress. When placed in unfamiliar circumstances, they didn’t run and hide, like the unexercised rats. They casually explored.

Positive Stress of Exercise

“It looks more and more like the positive stress of exercise prepares cells and structures and pathways within the brain so that they’re more equipped to handle stress in other forms,” says Michael Hopkins, affiliated with the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory Laboratory at Dartmouth, who has been studying how exercise differently affects thinking and emotion. “It’s pretty amazing, really, that you can get this translation from the realm of purely physical stresses to the realm of psychological stressors.”

Virabhadrasana Yoga Center Madrid

Don’t Quit, Keep Exercising

The stress-reducing changes evoked by exercise on the brain don’t happen overnight. In the University of Colorado experiments, rats that ran for only three weeks did not show much reduction in stress anxiety, but those that ran for six weeks did. “Something happened between three and six weeks,” says Benjamin Greenwood, a researcher in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado. Dr. Greenwood added that it was “not clear how that translates” into exercise advice for humans. We do not know how intense the exercise needs to be. Dr. Greenwood says, the lesson is “don’t quit.” Keep running or cycling or swimming or doing Yoga. You may not feel a magical reduction of stress after your class, if you haven’t been exercising. But the molecular biochemical changes will begin, Dr. Greenwood says. And eventually, he says, they become “profound.”

See the New York Times

Does Exercise Improve Cognition ?

Exercise changes the Brain

It has been known for a long time that exercise changes the structure of the brain and affects thinking. A groundbreaking finding was published ten years ago by scientists at the Salk Institute in California showing that exercise stimulates the creation of new brain cells. But there are still some important questions to resolve, like whether exercise should be strenuous to create new brain cells. What about weight lifting? Should it be aerobic?  Are the cognitive improvements temporary or permanent?

human brain mri scans-cerebro humano

What Exercise makes you Smarter?

The American College of Sports Medicine, studied 21 students at the University of Illinois to see how well they could memorize a string of letters and then pick them out from a list flashed at them. Immediately afterwards they were asked to perform one of three things for 30 minutes —run on a treadmill, lift weights or sit quietly, — before doing the letter test again. After a 30-minute cool down, they were tested once again. A few days afterwards, the students came back to try the other two options. The students were much quicker and more accurate after they ran than with the other two options, and they performed better when tested after the cool down. “There seems to be something different about aerobic exercise,” says Charles Hillman, an associate professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Illinois and an author of the study..

Brisk walking or Stretching?

Similarly, in studies with elderly people, performed by scientists at the University of Illinois, assigned a six-month program of either stretching exercises or brisk walking. Those who did the  stretching improved their flexibility but did not improve on tests of cognition. Those who practiced brisk walking did.

Pattabji Jois teaching Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

Why Does the Exercise need to be Strenuous?

Why does exercise need to be aerobic to improve brain function? “It appears that various growth factors must be carried from the periphery of the body into the brain to start a molecular cascade there,” so that new neurons and brain connections are created, says Henriette van Praag, an investigator in the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging. To create new brain cells, “you need a fairly dramatic change in blood flow,” like what happens when you run, cycle or swim. Weight lifting, produces “growth factors in the muscles that stay in the muscles and aren’t transported to the brain,” van Praag says.


The current research findings suggest that,  “It would be fair to say that any form of regular exercise should be able to maintain or even increase our brain functions [if ii is aerobic].” says Chauying J. Jen, a professor of physiology at National Cheng Kung University, in Taiwan.. What we need to keep in mind is that there are many kinds of exercise and their effects may be quite different. As we become better informed we can choose our own combination of exercise practices - aerobics, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga of Pattabhi Jois, Power Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, swimming. tennis etc., each type for its specific contribution to health and wellbeing.

See Gretchen Reynolds in the New York Times, 16/09/2009.