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Want to improve long-term memory? This will help…

Think that improving your long term memory is all brain training and omega-3 supplements? Think again. A new study from researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta suggests that working out at the gym for as little as 20 minutes can improve long-term memory.

Memory exercisePrevious studies have shown that memory may be improved by several months of aerobic exercises, such as running, cycling or swimming. However, the findings of the new study – published in the journal Acta Psychologica – demonstrate that a similar memory boost can be achieved in a much shorter period.

Psychological stress ‘increases risk of stroke’

Depressive symptoms in particular, but also chronic stress in life, increase the risk of older people having a stroke or transient ischemic attack, says researchers, who found feelings of hostility, but not anger, were also a risk factor for cerebrovascular disease.

stroke risk factorsThe study of over 6,700 people aged between 45 and 84 years, reported in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke, compared the rates of full and mini-stroke between people of different psychological profiles rated via questionnaire.

Compared with people who had healthy psychological scores, those with the poorest scores showed the following percentage increases in their likelihood of suffering a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA):

  • 86% for a high score on depressive symptoms
  • 59% for the highest ratings of chronic stress.

On the effect of feelings of hostility – “which is a negative way of viewing the world” and was assessed by the person’s “cynical expectations of other people’s motives” – this resulted in a doubling of the risk versus people who did not score highly on this profile. Feelings of anger, however, had no effect.

Dr. Susan Everson-Rose, lead author and associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, says:

“There’s such a focus on traditional risk factors – cholesterol levels, blood pressure, smoking and so forth – and those are all very important, but studies like this one show that psychological characteristics are equally important.”

The chronic stress was measured using ratings for five different domains of the participants’ lives:

  • Personal health problems
  • Health problems of people close to them
  • Job or ability to work
  • Relationships
  • Finances.

Decade-long study covered six American cities

The data for this analysis came from a study across six US sites known as the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis.

The 6,749 participants were from a mix of ethnic backgrounds across Baltimore, MD, Chicago, IL, Forsyth County, NC, Los Angeles, CA, New York City, NY, and Saint Paul, MN.

The almost equal numbers of men and women showed no evidence of cardiovascular disease at the start of the research in the early 2000s.

During the first 2 years of the recruitment, the baseline ratings of depression and chronic stress were assessed, and the subjects were monitored for an additional 8.5 to 11 years.

During the study, 147 strokes and 48 TIAs occurred, and the researchers did a statistical analysis at the end to compare the rates of disease between different levels of psychological health.

Possible biological mechanisms

The authors say they have excluded the possibility that the stroke results could be explained by poor psychological health tending to have a bad effect on physical lifestyle (people experiencing “stress and negative emotions typically have more adverse behavioral risk profiles, and experience difficulty in maintaining healthy lifestyles and adhering to treatment recommendations”).

The lifestyle factors taken into account were:

  • Smoking
  • Physical activity
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Body mass index
  • Blood pressure.

Independent of these factors, if depression and stress can be assumed to have a direct causal effect on stroke, then, the authors offer only theoretical ideas about what the biological link might be.

“Stress and negative emotions activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis,” they write, and this activation of the brain’s stress center influences blood clotting, among a number of other effects listed in the paper.

But these factors were not tested in the study. Another pathway that was tested, that of inflammatory effects, was tested to some extent, but “little evidence” was shown for it.

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Stressful situations show the head and the heart don’t always agree

depressionThe head and the heart of people who suffer from high levels of anxiety react to stressful situations differently, researchers at the University of Birmingham have found.

The research, which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society, showed that the way people with high levels of anxiety feel that they are responding to a task and the way their body actually responds to the task are not related to each other.

Researchers from the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences, measured general everyday anxiety levels in 180 adolescents and then recorded their heart rate while they were resting and during a psychological stress task, such as a maths test under time pressure with social evaluation, in the laboratory. They used the difference between heart rate during the stress task compared to rest to determine their actual biological responses.

They found that people with higher anxiety in everyday life reported higher somatic symptoms (eg, feeling that their heart is racing) immediately before and during the stress task. However, there were no associations between people’s actual biological responses to stress and somatic symptoms during stress. There were also no associations between people’s biological responses and general anxiety.

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Study Reveals Working Moms Experience More Stress than Dads on Family Matters

Although working mothers and fathers are almost as likely to think about family matters throughout the day, only for mothers is this type of mental labor associated with increased stress and negative emotions, according to new research to be presented at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

“I assume that because mothers bear the major responsibility for childcare and family life, when they think about family matters, they tend to think about the less pleasant aspects of it — such as needing to pick up a child from daycare or having to schedule a doctor’s appointment for a sick kid — and are more likely to be worried,” said study author Shira Offer, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

depressionMuch has been written about the unequal division of household labor and childcare, but the overwhelming majority of studies in this field examine specific behaviors, Offer said. “These studies focus on the physical aspect of tasks and demands, which can be measured and quantified relatively easily,” she said. “However, much of the work we do, both paid and unpaid, takes place in our mind. We are often preoccupied with the things we have to do, we often worry about them, and feel stressed not to forget to do them or to do them on time. These thoughts and concerns — mental labor — can impair our performance, make it difficult to focus on tasks, and even hurt our sleep. This mental labor is the focus of my study.”

The study relies on data from the 500 Family Study, a multi-method investigation of how middle-class families balance family and work experiences. The 500 Family Study collected comprehensive information from 1999 to 2000 on families living in eight urban and suburban communities across the United States. Most parents in the 500 Family Study are highly educated, employed in professional occupations, and work, on average, longer hours and report higher earnings than do middle-class families in other, nationally representative samples. Although the 500 Family Study is not a representative sample of families in the U.S., it reflects one of the most time pressured segments of the population. Offer’s study uses a subsample from the 500 Family Study, consisting of 402 mothers and 291 fathers in dual-earner families who completed a survey and a time diary that collects information about the content and context of individuals’ daily experiences, as well as the emotions associated with them, in the course of a week.

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