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Exercise keeps our brains healthy – but does cognitive decline lead to physical decline?

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Matthieu Boisgontier’s strategy for keeping fit is a little unorthodox: He buys a chocolate bar – then doesn’t eat it. By training himself to rein in his automatic impulses, he figures he’ll get better at resisting the lure of the couch and getting out the door for his daily half-hour run.

According to new research by Boisgontier, a neuroscientist and health researcher from France recently hired by the University of Ottawa, that strategy may have long-term implications for how his physical and mental capacities decline as he ages – but not necessarily in the way you’d expect.

For years now we’ve been hearing about the power of exercise to keep our brains healthy. Research in both animals and humans has shown that physical activity maintains blood flow to the brain and raises levels of growth factors that promote the formation of new neurons. A study from the Ontario Brain Institute estimated that people who are very physically active are almost 40 per cent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

But Boisgontier and a colleague from the University of Geneva, Boris Cheval, believe that may be only half the story.

In 2018, they published a study that used EEG brain imaging to explore one of the great riddles of public health: why people fail to exercise regularly even when they know how beneficial it would be. By flashing images of people exercising or lounging in hammocks, they showed that it takes extra neural effort to resist the lure of being sedentary. In other words, we’re wired to be lazy.

Based on those findings, they began to wonder whether declining cognitive function might be a cause, rather than just a consequence, of age-related declines in physical activity.

To test this hypothesis, they analyzed data from more than 100,000 adults between the ages of 50 and 90 in 21 European countries, each of whom had completed cognitive assessments and reported their physical activity levels five times over a 12-year period. The results will be published in the June issue of the journal Health Psychology.

As expected, those with the lowest scores on the cognitive test also tended to get the least exercise. But the most interesting finding was how the scores changed over time: The inexorable declines in cognitive function generally preceded declines in physical activity, suggesting that the former contributed to the latter.

There was also evidence, albeit weaker, that physical declines are followed by cognitive declines. As a result, Boisgontier said, “our results support the idea that cognitive abilities and physical abilities are part of the same circle that can be either a virtuous one or a vicious one.”

The new results join a long-standing debate about the underlying causes of age-related decline, says Emilie Reas, a neuroscientist at the University of California San Diego. It’s possible, for example, that socioeconomic factors or lifestyle changes such as retirement could lead to both physical and cognitive decline in parallel.

“Even if cognitive impairment does limit physical activity, this doesn’t refute the fact that exercise is good for the brain,” she said. “This evidence is quite solid and shouldn’t change the advice to stay active throughout life, especially in older age.”

But if cognitive function itself is a risk factor in that potentially vicious cycle of decline, that suggests other possible counterattacks. Cheval stresses the importance of sustaining cognitively engaging activities such as socializing and reading and modifying the environment to make movement – taking the stairs rather than the elevator, say – a default option that doesn’t require extra cognitive effort.

Boisgontier, meanwhile, has used his don’t-eat-the-chocolate-bar strategy to ingrain the habit of a half-hour daily run. At first, convincing himself to lace up his shoes and get out the door took a lot of mental effort. But eventually, he said, it became automatic. “I don’t really need any brain resources to engage in this physical activity any more” – precisely, he hopes, what will make the habit stick as he gets older.

Alex Hutchinson is the author of Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance. Follow him on Twitter @sweatscience.

Source: – The Globe and Mail

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Edited By Harry Miller

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Coronavirus: Manitoba reports record-breaking 543 new cases, 7 additional deaths | Watch News Videos Online – Globalnews.ca

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Manitoba’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Brent Roussin on Monday reported a record-breaking 543 new cases of COVID-19 in the province and seven additional deaths. It is the highest single-day increase the province has seen since the pandemic began, breaking the previous record of 494 cases announced Nov. 15.

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N.B. COVID-19 roundup: 15 new cases reported Monday, and another death – CBC.ca

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Public Health is reporting 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, and another death.

Eleven of the new cases are in the Saint John region (Zone 2), three are in the Moncton region (Zone 1) and one in the Fredericton region (Zone 3), Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, said at a news conference.

All 15 of the cases have been “identified and are isolating,” Russell said.

Seven people in New Brunswick have now died of the disease since the pandemic started. Russell did not say where the latest death occurred.

She urged residents to “please, wear a mask” and keep their close contacts low.

“We must all remain vigilant, there has never been a time when the risk was zero,” she said.

Enforcement of rules, and frustration with non-compliance

Premier Blaine Higgs said Monday that police and peace offers were enforcing compliance with the single-household bubble, mask-wearing, physical distancing and other rules in the orange zones on the weekend.

Thirty tickets were issued, he said, and at least one business in southeastern New Brunswick has been shut down after not following guidelines “for some time.”

Higgs also singled out for criticism those who are deliberately ignoring the rules.

“It is disappointing to hear that some people have not been giving their real names and contact information” when at businesses, he said.

“You’re not ‘beating the system,’ ” he later added. “You’re jeopardizing the health and welfare of maybe your neighbour, maybe your grandparents, maybe your parents.”

Atlantic bubble bursts

The Atlantic bubble has come to an end for now.

Both Newfoundland and Labrador and P.E.I announced Monday that they were leaving the bubble for at least two weeks as COVID-19 cases rise in parts of the region.

New Brunswick isn’t following suit, although Premier Blaine Higgs is asking people to be cautious about travel outside the province.

Higgs said during Monday’s news conference that he spoke with the P,E.I and Newfoundland and Labrador premiers Sunday night and the decision to leave the bubble was a “shared decision.” He expects it will be “a two-week closure.”

New Brunswick tightened restrictions in Moncton and Saint John last week as cases rose, and the province reported its highest ever single-day case count on Saturday with 23 new cases. As of Sunday, the province had a total of 77 active cases. 

Employee tests positive at Stan Cassidy Centre

Horizon Health Network and New Brunswick Public Health are investigating a potential COVID-19 exposure at Horizon’s Stan Cassidy Centre for Rehabilitation in Fredericton.

As this is a high-risk situation, Horizon is declaring an outbreak at the Centre.

As of Monday morning, Horizon is restricting all visitors at the Centre and cancelling scheduled appointments until further notice after an employee tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday.

The employee is self-isolating, Horizon said in a statement.

Patients who were in contact with the employee when the employee may have been infectious had rapid testing for the respiratory virus Sunday.

 Horizon said all affected patients have been isolated. And all staff who were in contact have had COVID-19 testing. 

“As a precautionary measure, all other employees at the Centre will be tested for COVID-19.”

Effective Monday morning, all staff and physicians at the Centre will participate in active screening for COVID-19 symptoms.

Horizon Health said affected patients and families have also been notified.

Employee and 3 residents test positive for COVID-19 at Shannex

A Shannex official says the Parkland Saint John facility has activated its pandemic plan after one employee and three residents tested positive for COVID-19.

Clinical practice director and infection control specialist Lisa Snodgrass says all 371 residents and employees were tested.

And she’s been told those four were the only positive cases.

“We’re not sure how it got in,” she said. “But we are sure of what we can do to help prevent the spread and that’s what we’re focusing on right now.

Public health says the outbreak is at Tucker Hall.

Snodgrass says that’s a 90-bed licensed long-term care home on the Parkland Saint John campus.

Snodgrass said all residents are self-isolating as well as some employees – she declined to say how many.

Residents can normally move freely between the buildings, but under pandemic restrictions, she says most of the movement is limited to health care team members.

She says the investigation into cause of the outbreak is ongoing.

What to do if you have a symptom

People concerned they might have COVID-19 symptoms can take a self-assessment test online

Public Health says symptoms shown by people with COVID-19 have included:

  • A fever above 38 C.

  • A new cough or worsening chronic cough.

  • Sore throat.

  • Runny nose.

  • Headache.

  • New onset of fatigue, muscle pain, diarrhea, loss of sense of taste or smell.

  • Difficulty breathing.

In children, symptoms have also included purple markings on the fingers and toes.

People with one of those symptoms should:

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Manitoba posts record 543 new cases of COVID-19 – CBC.ca

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Manitoba hit a new high for daily COVID-19 cases with 543 today — the first daily tally to top 500 — and seven more deaths, the daily bulletin says.

That puts Manitoba’s total cases so far above 14,000, meaning one in every 100 Manitobans has contracted the illness.

“It might be easier to just think of these as numbers, but these are Manitobans,” said Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin. “The list continues to grow and it’s very challenging to be reading every day.”

The majority of new cases — 368 of them — are in the Winnipeg Health region, which is a record. The previous high was 330 cases announced on Nov. 7.

The announcement comes about a week and a half after all of Manitoba went into code red, or critical, under the provincial pandemic response system.

Even more restrictions went into effect Friday, with gatherings no longer allowed inside homes, and no more sales of non-essential items in-store, following widespread closures of restaurants, bars and non-essential businesses.

4,700+ cases under code red

More than 4,700 new cases have emerged under code red, and Manitoba has struggled to alleviate the pressure facing hospitals. 

Roussin said one promising sign that those restrictions are working is the average number of contacts of people who test positive is beginning to trend down.

There were 118 new cases in the Southern Health region, just shy of the record for that area. There were 27 cases in the Northern Health Region, 21 in the Interlake-Eastern health region and 12 in the Prairie Mountain Health region.

The death toll rises to 236, with five of the new deaths in Winnipeg and two in the Southern Health region. The people who died were age 60 to 100. 

Nearly half of all reported deaths have emerged during code red, which came into effect Nov. 12.

The five-day provincial test positivity rate is 14 per cent in Manitoba, with a rate of 13.8 per cent in Winnipeg.

Record in hospital

A record 296 people are in hospital with the illness, with a record-tying 52 in intensive care.

Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health, said 96 of Manitoba’s 103 ICU beds are currently full, half of them with COVID-19 patients.

All but four days in the past month have seen record high numbers in hospital and the system is at or near capacity. Hospitals continue to add a few ICU beds every week, but Siragusa and Roussin have repeatedly stressed the demands facing the system can’t be sustained.

The surge has caused the province to postpone 901 non-urgent and elective surgeries in the past four weeks, she said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 552 health-care workers and first responders have tested positive, Siragusa said.

Nearly 111,000 hours of sick time were logged in the past two weeks, up slightly from the two weeks earlier, and that equates to about 6,900 eight-hour shifts, Siragusa said. Much of the sick time is linked to workers in Winnipeg who are sick or isolating at home.

Roussin also addressed reports of religious gatherings taking place over the weekend in violation of current public health orders. He stopped short of confirming where in the province these gatherings reportedly occurred but said enforcement officers are investigating.

“These orders are here to save lives,” Roussin said. “We can’t have in-person gatherings. It puts Manitobans at risk.”

Calls for help at care home

There are hundreds of cases tied to care home outbreaks — nearly 30 such outbreaks have occurred so far — and rising case numbers across the province.

Some private care homes are facing staffing shortages due to workers testing positive and have resorted to asking family members of residents to come help feed and monitor their loved ones.

Siragusa said Monday that among those helping out at care homes are staff from the Victoria General Hospital, who recently began pitching in at St. Norbert Personal Care Home.

“I just want to thank everyone who has stepped up during this period of incredible need,” she said. “It’s a reminder that we all need to stick together in this time.”

About a quarter of all deaths are linked to two Winnipeg care homes. About 90 per cent of all deaths have been people over age 60, though two 30-year-olds and a 20-year-old died last week.

Since March,14,087 people in Manitoba have tested positive; over 70 per cent of all cases to date have emerged in the past month.

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