Learn about the impact of children's fitness and weight, the significance of life purpose, and other benefits from mind-body medicine.
Weight, Activity and Kids’ Cognitive Skills
Both weight and exercise, as independent factors, affect the thinking skills of children. Much research has shown that physical activity boosts children's academic performance, but few studies have focused on the issue of weight. Catherine Davis, PhD, at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University (now Augusta University) in Augusta, Georgia, led a study that found that both weight and physical activity matter. The study was published in Pediatric Exercise Science (2015; doi: 10.1123/pes.2015-0044).
The 45 study participants fell into three categories: active normal-weight; inactive normal-weight; and inactive overweight. On cognitive skills tests related to planning and attention, inactive normal-weight children scored higher than their heavier peers. However, the lean active kids achieved the highest scores on both tests. "Activity made a difference even among normal-weight kids," said Davis in a Medical College of Georgia news release. "That verifies that physical activity makes a difference in brain function."
Davis was surprised that weight was an independent factor affecting cognition. Excessive inflammation and/or hormones might have contributed, but that remains unclear. The researchers determined that both physical activity and weight were associated with cognitive skills, but the study did not establish cause-and-effect relationships. Future research will focus on comparing active and inactive overweight children to determine whether physical activity improves cognitive skills and to understand more about how weight and physical activity affect children's brain health.
Life Purpose May Impact Longevity
Do you feel a sense of purpose in your life? If so, it may reduce your risk of heart disease and early death, according to a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine(2015; doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000274).
Life purpose has been defined as a "self-organizing life aim that stimulates goals, manages behavior, and provides a sense of meaning" (McKnight & Kashdan 2009). Researchers from Mt. Sinai St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital (now Mt. Sinai St Luke’s Hospital) in New York City focused on meaning and life purpose as they affected health. They meta-analyzed relevant data from 10 studies that featured more than 136,000 participants (average age, 67 years). Subjects were followed for an average of 7 years, and during this time 14,500 participants died from various causes. More than 4,000 experienced a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke.
Data analysis revealed that participants with a strong sense of life purpose had an approximately one-fifth lower risk of death during the study, compared with those who lacked a sense of meaning in life. The study authors suggested the association between life purpose and better health might have resulted from a combination of physiological and behavioral mechanisms. For example, life purpose has been associated with better immune function and reduced salivary cortisol levels. From a behavioral perspective, it has been associated with commitment to a eating a healthier diet, engaging in physical activity and avoiding substance abuse.
"Of note, having a strong sense of life purpose has long been postulated to be an important dimension of life, providing people with a sense of vitality, motivation and resilience," said study author Alan Rozanski, MD, in a Wolters Kluwer Health news release. "Nevertheless, the medical implications of living with a high or low sense of life purpose have only recently caught the attention of investigators. The current findings are important because they may open up new potential interventions for helping people to promote their health and sense of well-being."
Mind-Body Medicine Effective in Reducing Heart Attacks
New research suggests that a mind-body integrative approach to lowering risk of heart attack or stroke in those with heart disease is more effective than conventional lifestyle modification programs. Researchers from the University of Duisburg-Essen, in Essen, Germany, and Charité-Universitätsmedizin, in Berlin, believe that a more holistic mind-body approach to secondary prevention of heart attacks may provide more benefits than the standard treatment.
Investigators conducted a study review comparing standard lifestyle interventions with mind-body interventions that incorporated dietary and exercise modifications, along with relaxation and psychological components (including, but not limited to, yoga and meditation). The researchers looked at 12 clinical trials that analyzed cardiac events, overall mortality and cardiac mortality. The studies involved 1,085 patients. Secondary outcomes related to atherosclerosis, blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index were also examined.
Study authors noted a significant difference in cardiac events, like heart attacks, bypass surgery or angioplasty, between the two groups. Only half as many—33 out of 308—who received the mind-body–based intervention experienced an event, compared with 68 out of 307 patients who participated in conventional treatment. No dissimilarity in mortality was found. Researchers noted, however, that reduction of nonfatal coronary events is a significant predictor for the course of heart disease.
"In patients with coronary heart disease, mind-body medicine can lessen the occurrence of cardiac events, reduce atherosclerosis, and lower systolic blood pressure, but they do not reduce mortality,” concluded study authors. “They can be used as a complement to conventional rehabilitation programs." Further research is needed to examine the optimal intensity and duration of these interventions and to identify which of the many exercise, nutrition and relaxation programs are best.
The study appeared in Deutsches Ärzteblatt International (2015; 112, 759-67).