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Ladies, Take a Walk on the Wise Side

continued...

In a separate study presented at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology, researchers from Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles reported that among overweight women undergoing evaluation for possible heart disease, those who rarely or never performed strenuous activities were more likely to have signs of one risk factor for type 2 diabetes and the heart problems related to it. In addition, inactive women also had much higher blood levels of triglycerides, a harmful form of fat, than the active women.

There are several possible explanations for how stretching the legs can also stretch the mind. Studies of mice show that those that run in exercise wheels for a good part of the day develop more nerve connections and healthier nerve cells in the portion of the brain where learning and memory reside than their sedentary littermates.

Exercise also could help improve blood flow in the brain, just as it improves the function of blood vessels supplying the heart.

"We know that physical activity does a number of favorable things in terms of cardiovascular profile and [artery narrowing], less [blood fat], better fitness -- the same things we know are also associated with [mental] function," Yaffe says.

"Some people say it's not exercising by itself," Oscar Lopez, MD, associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, tells WebMD. "It's the social activity that goes with exercise. The guy who wakes up in the morning and starts using [an exercise machine] is different from the group where they run and then they have a cup of tea and spend the whole morning together. That type of social support and contact relieves anxiety and could be as important as exercise by itself."

Asked whether exercise might also offer a protective benefit in men, Yaffe says, "I don't see why we wouldn't expect to see the same things in men. However, there is a study that recently came out [in the journal Archives of Neurology] that did not, and I don't know why. They looked at this and found that the association was much more prominent among women."

She speculates that because men tend to have higher risk for heart and blood vessel disease, they may need to exercise more to see the same benefit. Other studies, however, have shown a similar benefit of exercise for both sexes, Yaffe says.

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