News Release

December 28, 2007

Contact: Christopher DeFrancesco, 860-679-3914

More Reasons to Resolve to Exercise

Mental as Well as Physical Fitness

FARMINGTON, CONN. – The messages are virtually everywhere: exercise regularly and eat better. And this is the time of year people tend to be more likely to heed that advice, as personal pledges involving fitness and weight management historically are among the most common New Year’s resolutions.

The motivation can be an acknowledgement of the impact excess weight has on heart health, simply a desire to look thinner, or perhaps related to something that may not be as obvious, such as mental fitness or cancer risk.

“We know exercise is good, it helps get your blood pressure down, it reduces cardiovascular risk factors, and that’s important for everyone,” says Patrick P. Coll, M.D., of the Center on Aging at the University of Connecticut Health Center. “But it’s important in preserving mental function too, and not just by preventing major stroke, but also in terms of preventing minor stroke, and even Alzheimer’s disease.”

Recent studies of people in their 60s and 70s suggest those who had exercised or walked on a regular basis during the previous two years were more likely to preserve their memories than those who hadn’t exercised. In animal studies, older mice put on a hamster wheel outperformed their sedentary counterparts on tests of memory.

UConn Health Center Department of Neurology Chair Leslie Wolfson, M.D., is studying cardiovascular risk factors and brain function.

“Small strokes compromise mobility, cognitive function and urinary function,” Wolfson says. “Treatment of cardiovascular risk factors, most notably blood pressure and blood cholesterol, in conjunction with an active exercise program, maximizes one’s chance for successful aging.”

The studies are not to suggest that only senior citizens get a memory benefit out of regular exercise, Coll says.

“A lot of what we know about aging applies to people in their 30s, 40s and 50s,” Coll says. “There isn’t much of a downside to exercise at almost any age, provided you’re physically capable.”

Additional reasons to make regular exercise a habit appear in a recent report by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research. Scientific evidence shows exercise and diet play an important role in cancer prevention, it concludes.

“Exercise of any type reduces the risk of colon, breast or uterine cancer, and possibly lung and pancreatic cancer,” says Molly Brewer, M.D., of the UConn Health Center’s Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Body fatness increases the risk of esophageal, pancreatic, colon, breast, uterine and kidney cancers with very strong evidence.”

Dietary recommendations include increasing the daily consumption of whole grains, fruits and non-starchy vegetables to reduce the risk of many cancers.

“Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and some spices reduce the risk of oral, esophageal, stomach, colorectal, pancreatic and lung cancers with fairly strong evidence, while diets high in red meat, processed meat and alcohol increase the risk of colorectal, esophageal and breast cancer with very strong evidence,” Brewer says. “Just changing our lifestyle to exercise more and eat more fruits and vegetables and less red meat gives better protection against cancer than any other intervention including most of the supplements.”

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