Tag Archives: running

Masters Athletes: life-long physical activity helps keep your brain from falling apart

Eye Pood Kettlebell Crossfit shirt
Low T? Feeling awesome increases Testosterone. Wear WODMASTERS and feel it rise.

Masters athletes complain about aches and pain just as much as anyone else.  Maybe more.  They may complain more because they tend to hurt themselves fairly often.   Masters athletes can be surprisingly competitive about who hurt what more.  Let’s be honest though, being competitive about pain is better than being depressed about it.  As we wonder about what is happening to our bodies its nice to hear some good news now and then, along with a little assurance that we are doing ourselves at least a little good.

Coconut oil and CrossFit Masters
CrossFit Masters Athletes may have a cognitive edge.  Hard to tell from looking at these two though.

Latest research on the benefits of life-long exercise on cognitive function (or “thinking” for those who prefer simpler terms.)

Most scientific journals publish on the first of the month.  This is when new research becomes available to the public.  Today’s post is about a new study published in the journal Neurolimage.  Researchers at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center report on brain structural differences between masters athletes and sedentary older adults.  This is not the same thing as functional differences.  However, structural changes in the brain during adulthood are just about never good news.  Unfortunately the brain changes as we age . . . and generally not for the better.  The masters athletes in the study were aerobically trained (runners not weightlifters) and ranged in age from 61 to 80.  Brains of masters athletes showed high white matter microstructural integrity than did the brains of sedentary people.  The brain contains white matter and grey matter.  Both are important.  However, white matter contains heavily myelinated neurons that transmit information to other neurons.  Healthy white matter is needed for the brain to function as a unit so you can find your keys and glasses and remember why you wanted them.  The white matter in masters athletes was specifically “healthier” in brain areas responsible for memory and for motor function.  Everyone appreciates memory.  Or at least misses it.  Masters athletes may be more attuned to changes in perception and coordination (motor function).

What else is new about life-long aerobic fitness and brain function?

Another strong woman shirt for strong women.  Be fit and wear an awesome shirt.  For strong women who love art, irony and kettlebells
Another strong woman shirt for strong women. Be fit and wear an awesome shirt. For strong women who love art, irony and kettlebells

Masters athletes also had less “white matter hyperintensities”.  These white matter hyperintensities are thought to be demyelinated white matter (messed up brain matter).  They are associated with increased risk of stroke and dementia.  Not having them is a good thing.  Research continues to show that physical fitness is important for brain function.  Even just a few months of aerobic exercise can increase brain volume and improve cognitive function.  Anaerobic exercise like weight lifting may help too.  There just hasn’t been as much study of weightlifters and cognitive function.  For those of us who are CrossFit athletes:  Crossfit may also help maintain brain fitness, but its too early to tell.

 

Tseng BY, Gundapuneedi T, Khan MA, Diaz-Arrastia R, Levine BD, Lu H, Huang H, & Zhang R (2013). White matter integrity in physically fit older adults. NeuroImage, 82, 510-6 PMID: 23769914

Debette S, & Markus HS (2010). The clinical importance of white matter hyperintensities on brain magnetic resonance imaging: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 341 PMID: 20660506

The importance of moderate intensity aerobic exercise.

Crossfit aerobic training and running.  You have probably heard that exercise improves mood, memory and brain function.  And that it may protect against Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline.  Former runners who have turned to CrossFit may remember their runner’s high.  It was that wonderful feeling of peace and well-being.  CrossFit is a great fitness program.  For many people it has become a way of life.  But it does not seem to produce the “high” that many people get from running.  Combining CrossFit running is something to think about.

 

Running.  The moderate stuff matters.

The “runner’s high” is thought to be caused by chemicals called endocannabinoids.  These chemicals are produced in the brain (and possibly in other areas).  They reduce feelings of pain and increase feelings of well-being.  Endocannabinoids are also involved in appetite suppression and synaptic plasticity. Synaptic plasticity refers to the ability of neurons to adapt and change.  An area where Synaptic plasticity is important is in learning and memory formation.   New research (April 2013) on endocannabinoids shows that moderate aerobic exercise increases production.  Low intensity exercise (like walking) does not.  High intensity exercise does not seem to increase endocannabinoids either.  CrossFit is very high intensity exercise.  Including moderate intensity running with CrossFit (CrossFit running) is probably a good idea. If you are interested in preserving cognitive function.  Or if you are interested in improving cognitive function.  Some of us are just trying to keep from losing ground.  CrossFit is fun.  And great for full-body fitness.  But it may be that a relaxing run, bike or swim is just as important.  If not more.

CrossFit and Running
A couple discusses crossfit running during a tender moment post wod.

 

Raichlen DA, Foster AD, Seillier A, Giuffrida A, & Gerdeman GL (2013). Exercise-induced endocannabinoid signaling is modulated by intensity. European journal of applied physiology, 113 (4), 869-75 PMID: 22990628

 

Crossfit High Intensity Interval Workouts

Crossfit – High Intensity Interval Training workouts.

crossfit men discuss womens resistence training
Two ugly crossfit men talk about crossfit, high intensity interval training workouts and WODMASTERS WORKOUT SHIRTS.  Why aren’t they weraing them now?  Get to the shop guys.

Endurance exercise is recommended for cardiovascular health.  Years of research have found that about 30 minutes of cardio will reduce risk of stroke and heart attack.  It will also improve insulin sensitivity, reduce risk of diabetes and improve memory and brain function.  Until very recently, there has been little research on the benefits of CrossFit type exercise on health.  These studies focus on High Intensity Interval Training.  High Intensity Interval Training workouts consist of multiple sets of intense exercise that last 1-4 minutes.  These are spaced with short rest periods.  Or periods of light exercise.

High Intensity Interval Training Workouts with gas mark.
There are so many ways to make life harder. High Intensity Interval Training Workouts can make you hurt faster

Research on this approach to exercise indicates that this approach may number of ways.  These include cardio and respiratory fitness.  And also insulin sensitivity and arterial stiffness.  Arterial stiffness is an indicator for risk of cardiovascular disease.  It is also looking like High Intensity Interval Training may be better at controlling or preventing high blood pressure than the traditional 30 minutes of sustained cardio.

CrossFit Training vs. Running?

The question of is CrossFit better than running is not known yet.  And CrossFit is different than the types of High Intensity Interval Training being tested.  In a nutshell, CrossFit is a fitness program that involves high intensity exercise.  Many different muscle groups are targeted in a CrossFit workout (also known as a CrossFit WOD.)  Workouts may last 5-20 minutes and involve springs, weight lifting, pull-ups and other bodyweight exercises.  If you are wondering “what is CrossFit” try this link. CrossFit exercises may or may not include periods of rest between sets.  However, there is a lot of shifting of focus.  Intensity may be sustained, but not sustained on the same muscle groups.  This might be better for vascular health.

CrossFit High Intensity Interval Training.

crossfit shirt rhino crossfit masters
Stiff, Inflexible, Invincible WODMasters shirt for the Masters CrossFit Athlete. And for other people who may also be stiff and inflexible.

Short periods of high intensity interval training type exercise improve capillary growth.  This allows for greater blood flow to tissues.  Including muscle.   It is possible that intense exercise impacting multiple muscle groups would be better than exercise that impacts only legs (as in running). This is an exciting area of research.  It will be interesting to see what comes up next.  Hopefully more research will be done soon that will look at whether or not CrossFit or High Intensity Interval Training does as well with brain health and control of diabetes.  For a look at recent papers take a look at:

Cocks, M., Shaw, C., Shepherd, S., Fisher, J., Ranasinghe, A., Barker, T., Tipton, K., & Wagenmakers, A. (2012). Sprint interval and endurance training are equally effective in increasing muscle microvascular density and eNOS content in sedentary males The Journal of Physiology, 591 (3), 641-656 DOI: 10.1113/jphysiol.2012.239566

Spence AL, Carter HH, Naylor LH, & Green D (2013). A prospective randomised longitudinal study involving 6-months of endurance or resistance exercise on conduit artery adaptation in humans. The Journal of physiology PMID: 23247114