Scientists Say You Should Do This Exercise at Least Twice a Week to Make Your Brain Work Better.

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Engaging in regular weightlifting could actually make your brain work better and prevent dementia, concludes new research by Australian scientists. As about 135 million people are estimated to develop dementia by 2050, the study’s findings are key in ensuring healthier brain function in the population.

The researchers focused on 100 people aged 55 to 86 with “mild cognitive impairment” (MCI) who were asked to do weight lifting and brain training. MCI is considered a precursor to developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

In 2014, the same team published a paper outlining how cognition skills improve as a result of weight training. The benefits lasted even 12 months after that study concluded.

“What we found in this follow-up study is that the improvement in cognition function was related to their muscle strength gains. The stronger people became, the greater the benefit for their brain,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Yorgi Mavros, of Sydney University.

Twice a week, over a six month period, the study’s participants worked with weights that were 80% as heavy as the max they could lift. The stronger they got, the more weight they lifted, sticking to the 80% rule.

Subsequent MRI scans of the study’s subjects showed an increase in certain areas of their brains.

While future studies will determine whether this holds true for people of any age group, the positive results encouraged Dr. Mavros to state a general recommendation for all.

“The more we can get people doing resistance training like weight lifting, the more likely we are to have a healthier ageing population,” said Dr. Mavros. “The key however is to make sure you are doing it frequently, at least twice a week, and at a high intensity so that you are maximising your strength gains. This will give you the maximum benefit for your brain.”

To build on their findings, the researchers are planning further studies.

“The next step now is to determine if the increases in muscle strength are also related to increases in brain size that we saw,” said the study’s senior author Professor Maria Fiatarone Singh, geriatrician at University of Sydney. “In addition, we want to find the underlying messenger that links muscle strength, brain growth, and cognitive performance, and determine the optimal way to prescribe exercise to maximise these effects.”

The Study of Mental and Resistance Training (SMART) trial was conducted by University of Sydney researchers in collaboration with the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) at University of New South Wales and the University of Adelaide.


University of Sydney finds racquet sports reduce risk of death by nearly half.

  • A study has found racquet sports reduce the risk of dying by 47 per cent
  • Researchers said swimming cuts the risk of death by 28 per cent
  • The study was based on 11 annual health surveys for England and Scotland

Playing squash, tennis and badminton is the best way to reduce the risk of suddenly dying, a study has found.

The racquet sports reduce the risk of death by 47 per cent compared to doing nothing, researchers discovered.

The study, which looked at the impact of different sports on health of people with an average age of 51, found swimming cut the risk of death by 28 per cent, aerobics by 27 per cent and cycling by 15 per cent.

Interestingly, it discovered that taking part in running and jogging, or football and rugby did not have a significant effect on cutting the chance of death.

The study was based on 11 annual health surveys for England and Scotland from between 1994 and 2008.

Senior author Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis at the University of Sydney said: ‘Our findings indicate that it’s not only how much and how often, but also what type of exercise you do that seems to make the difference.’

He added: ‘We found robust associations between participation in certain types of sport and exercise and mortality, indicating substantial reductions in all-cause and CVD mortality for swimming, racquet sports and aerobics and in all-cause mortality for cycling.’

The study, in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, aimed to quantify the impact of six different sports on the odds of beating death.

It examined 80,306 adults over 30 who were questioned on how much exercise they had had in the preceding four weeks, and if had been enough to make them ‘breathless and sweaty’.

Less than half the British population met the recommended weekly physical activity quota when they were surveyed.

Participants were tracked for an average of nine years, in which time 8,790 died from all causes and 1,909 from heart disease or stroke.

One ‘surprising’ part of the research was that football and running had no impact on reducing mortality.

One possibility was that low levels of football and running among the sample population – average age of 52 – may have skewed the results.

In addition, playing football and running may have other social and health benefits – which were not looked at in the study which only looked at mortality.

Researchers did find a 43 per cent reduced risk of death from all causes and a 45 per cent reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease among runners compared to people who did no exercise.

But this apparent advantage disappeared when all the potentially influential factors were accounted for – such as age, and body mass.

Researchers said a small number of deaths among footballers and runners, the ‘seasonality’ of certain sports may have had some bearing on the results.

Andy Murray was crowned as the World's No. 1 tennis player earlier this year. He also is the first player to win Grand Slam, ATP World Tour Finals, Olympic Games and Masters 1000 titles in one year

Andy Murray was crowned as the World’s No. 1 tennis player earlier this year. He also is the first player to win Grand Slam, ATP World Tour Finals, Olympic Games and Masters 1000 titles in one year

Nick Matthew is a three-time World Squash Champion and three-time Commonwealth gold medalist

Nick Matthew is a three-time World Squash Champion and three-time Commonwealth gold medalist

British tennis star Andy Murray becomes the world number one
 Playing squash, tennis or badminton reduces the risk of death by 47 per cent

Professor Charlie Foster, one of the study’s authors Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, said: ‘Runners tend to be younger with a lower BMI. They are also less likely to drink and smoke.

‘When you account for all these ‘influential factors’ the apparent benefits of running disappear, when compared to those people who don’t run.

‘Also, running works mainly the heart, lungs and legs whereas swimming and racquet sports, for instance, exercise the whole body.’

He added: ‘Running is very hard work and gets more and more difficult the older we get.’

Dr Tim Chico, Reader in Cardiovascular Medicine & consultant cardiologist, University of Sheffield, said the study may be unreliable as it used self-reported data, rather than, apps that record activity.

He said: ‘This study must not be misinterpreted as showing that running and football do not protect against heart disease. In this study both runners and footballers had a lower rate of death from heart disease.

‘Although this was not “statistically significant”, many other studies have found that runners live longer and suffer less heart disease.’ He added that the use of a single questionnaire would be less reliable than smartphone apps which track activity. These can ‘weed out people who overestimate or exaggerate how active they are’ and ‘provide more convincing evidence of the benefits of activity on the risk of heart disease. ‘

He added: ‘I will continue to tell my patients that regular physical activity (including running) is more effective in reducing their risk of heart disease than any drug I can prescribe.’

Sir David Spiegelhalter, Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk, University of Cambridge, said in his view that the problem was there were ‘so few deaths among runners and football players’ the statistics could not be relied on.



‘Primitive’ brain recognises edges.

Scientists at Australia’s Vision Centre (VC) have found a group of rare cells in the human brain that recognise edges – helping us to avoid accidents and recognise everything we use or see in daily life.


To their surprise, they located the cells in the ‘primitive’ brain – the part of our brain that was previously just thought to pass information from the eye to the higher brain, or cortex, to interpret it.

Their discovery has thrown new light on how the vision system of humans and other primates operates – and how we use vision to move around, find food, read, recognise faces and function day-to-day.

Importantly, the knowledge could help develop medical devices for reversing blindness such as the bionic eye, says Professor Paul Martin of The VC and The University of Sydney (USyd).

“Our eyes and brain work together to give us a recognisable world,” Prof. Martin explains. “The eyes send the light signals they detect to the cortex or ‘modern’ brain which is responsible for higher functions like memory, thought and language.”

“Our vision cells respond to different information – some to colour, some to brightness, and now we’ve found the ones that respond to patterns,” Dr Kenny Cheong of The VC and USyd adds. “If you look at your computer screen, you’ll see it has four sides, and each side has an orientation – horizontal or vertical. The cells are sensitive to these ‘sides’.”

What most surprised the researchers was the location of these cells. “We found these cells in the thalamus, which previously was only thought to pass information from the eyes to the cortex,” Dr Cheong says.

“This means that the cortex, or the ‘new’ brain, isn’t the only place that forms an image for us,” says Prof. Martin. “Even in the early stages, there are multiple pathways and signals going into the brain, so it isn’t simply doing a step by step construction of the world.

“While other animals including cats, rabbits, bees and chickens also have edge detecting cells, this is the first study to indicate that primate vision – including human vision – does not all happen in the cortex.”

These cells are also exceedingly rare, Prof. Martin says. “We actually saw them ten years ago, but these were a few cells out of thousands, so we thought that it was a mistake and discarded the data.

“But they cropped up every once in a while, and when we finally put them together, they look much more like cells in the cortex than in the thalamus.”

Dr Cheong says the study provides a better understanding of the visual system, which is crucial for the development of devices or treatments to restore vision.

“People who lose their vision lack the nerve cells that respond to light, which contains information such as colour, brightness and patterns,” he says. “So to develop a device like the bionic eye, we have to replicate the visual system, including these cells, using electronics. This means we must know what cells are present, how they work and what information they send to the brain.”

The power of one: Single photons illuminate quantum technology

Quantum mechanics, which aims to describe the nano-scale world around us, has already led to the development of many technologies ubiquitous in modern life, including broadband optical fibre communication and smartphone displays.

These devices operate using billions and billions of photons, the smallest indivisible quanta of light – but many powerful quantum effects (such as enabling quantum ) can only be harnessed when working with a single .

The quantum science community has been waiting for more than a decade for a compact optical chip that delivers exactly one photon at a time at very high rates.

With international and local collaborators, I reported today in Nature Communications the ability to combine single photon-generating devices on a single silicon chip, a breakthrough for next generation quantum technologies.

Photons as qubits

In 1982, American physicist and Nobel Prize laureate Richard Feynman proposed the idea of building a new type of computer based on the principles of .

While a regular computer represents information as a bit with a value of either 0 or 1, the quantum equivalent is the qubit, a quantum particle that has two clear binary states.

Due to its quantum nature a qubit can be in either state 0, or state 1 or superposition of them both at the same time.

Computations performed using a qubit follow a different set of rules to a regular computer – and this allows certain problems to be solved exponentially faster.

A photon is one example of a that can be used as a qubit, and ideally researchers would like to be able to generate photons one by one, as two or more photons in a bunch no longer act as a .

It is easy to generate many photons, but much harder to ensure they come out one by one – photons are gregarious by nature – and a high generation rate is desired, similar to a high central processing unit clock speed.

The creation of single photons has been possible for some years, but with poor performance and often bulky implementation. We showed that by combining multiple imperfect devices, all on a single silicon chip, we can produce a much higher quality and compact source of single photons, opening a number of new applications.

Fishing for photons

The challenge in our research was within the physical mechanism behind photon generation. There is an intrinsic link between the rate of useful single photons creation and how often two or more photons are generated instead: these bunches are unwanted.

Generating higher rates of single photons is thus accompanied by a higher proportion of unwanted additional photons, so we wanted to reduce that to a more favourable ratio.

Think about it in terms of fishing – instead of generating photons, we want to catch fish. An easy option is to send a fisherman out on a boat to cast a net; this will result in a lot of good fish, but also a lot of unwanted garbage.

This is analogous to using a conventional photon source, which generates many photons, but also a lot of unwanted photon bunches.

Alternatively, we can send two people out with fishing rods. With some luck, they could collectively catch the same number of fish in the same amount of time, but because the method is more selective, the chance of collecting garbage has been vastly reduced.

single device for generating single photons (one fisherman) when operating at a high rate (casting a large net) generated unwanted photon bunches. By combining two single photon sources (two fishermen on a boat) on a single silicon chip (the boat), the proportion of ‘garbage’ photon bunches was significantly reduced. In the future we will combine many photon sources on one chip (we want many fishermen!). Credit: SevenPixelz

This is analogous to the work done here: two single photon sources (the fishermen) were combined on a single silicon chip (the boat), with the proportion of “garbage” photon bunches significantly reduced.

More fishermen

In the future we will extend this idea and combine many more devices onto a single silicon optical chip. Even though each individual source operates at a lower rate, they can be combined to give much higher rates – you just need more fishermen!

This will allow us to generate a large number of useful single photons, which can act as optical qubits, a fundamental ingredient of complex quantum processors.

The impact of this work opens the potential for more advanced single photon technologies, including secure communication where improved single photon generation directly increases the distance and bit-rate of a quantum secure communication link.

This an active area of research at the Centre for Ultrahigh Bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS) within the University of Sydney.

Still more applications include metrology (the science of measurement), simulation of biological and chemical systems, and – of course – quantum computing. More information:

Ancient crop to protect wheat.

Using a crop popular in the Bronze Age but almost unknown today, University of Sydney scientists have helped pave the way to creating wheat resistant to the fungal disease stem rust.


“Wheat crops worldwide are vulnerable to this fungal disease and it has ruined entire harvests in Africa and the Middle East. The promise of creating wheat with greater resistance to stem rust is of major importance to the agricultural industry,” said Professor Harbans Bariana, from the University’s Faculty of Agriculture and Environment.

Professor Bariana’s student, Dr Sambavisam Periyannan, conducted research in a collaboration with the Faculty’s academics, CSIRO and scientists from the US and China on the molecular cloning of stem rust resistance gene Sr33. The results were recently published in the journalScience.

The researchers’ goal was to understand the molecular structure of a gene that exhibits resistance to the most important stem rust strain, Ug99. An estimated 90 percent of the world’s wheat harvest is vulnerable to Ug99.

The international research team used a gene from goat grass, a plant related to wheat. Goat grass was common over 5000 years ago but is rarely grown today and is a prohibited plant, considered a weed, in Australia.

“Colleagues at the CSIRO confirmed the cloning of Sr33 by inserting it in a modern wheat variety then testing it for stem rust,” Professor Bariana said.

“Australia has been more aware of the risk of stem rust than many other countries because of an epidemic in south-eastern Australia in 1973, which led to the creation of the National Wheat Rust Control Program,” said Professor Bariana.

While Australian researchers continued to work on creating resistant strains, the rest of the world’s wheat community experienced a wake-up call in 1999 with the detection of the highly virulent Ug99 race of stem rust in Uganda.

The latest edition of Science which reported the University’s collaborative research, also describes an American study identifying a different gene, Sr35 in a plant related to wheat and able to provide good levels of stem rust resistance.

“It is in the long-term interest of wheat breeders to develop varieties with broad spectrum resistance through combinations of different genes, but to do that we need to understand the nature of resistance genes,” Professor Bariana said. These studies have delivered robust markers to combine Sr33 and Sr35 in future wheat varieties.

“This latest research marks significant progress towards that long-term goal.”



Sunshine keeps eyes healthy.


At least 10 hours a week outdoors in the sunshine is beneficial for young children’s vision, find the researchers.

Exposure to sunshine as a small child is crucial to the development of a healthy eye according to results of long-term myopia study conducted by University of Sydney researchers.

Their findings published this week in the American Academy of Ophthalmology‘s professional journal tables data showing children who spend more time outdoors were less likely to become short-sighted or myopic.

The researchers say that evidence suggests that small children under six years of age should spend at least 10 hours a week outdoors in the sunshine.

Orthoptist Associate Professor Kathryn Rose, from the University’s Faculty of Health Sciences says exposure to sunlight at a young age assists in the growth of a normal healthy eyeball preventing it from growing too fast or over – expanding and becoming oval or egg-shaped instead of round.

The Sydney Adolescent and Eye Study, a five-year longitudinal follow-up study from the Sydney Myopia study, examined more than 2000 children from 55 primary and secondary schools for a number of risk factors linked with myopia.

Professor Rose says all children had a comprehensive eye examination. Accurate measurement of refractive errors (myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism) was conducted using an international standard regime of eye drops, similar to that adopted in WHO studies.

A detailed questionnaire gathered information on the children’s ethnicity, general physical activities including hours spent in outdoor leisure such as cycling, outdoor sports, picnics or walking. Researchers also gathered data on near-sighted activities such as computer use and time taken watching television.

Amanda French, PhD candidate and lead author, says:

“The results show that the protective effect of time spent outdoors as a very small child persists even if a child is doing a lot of near work such as reading and studying.”

While the results of the study showed television watching and computer use appear to have little effect on the development of refractive errors in the eye, children with one or both parents myopic had a greater likelihood of developing the condition but even for those children, time spent outdoors had a mitigating effect. Time spent in outdoor light also reduced the likelihood of myopia developing in children of all ethnicities.

French says prevention of myopia is important for future eye health as even low levels of the condition place you at higher risk of cataracts and glaucoma in adulthood.

“Promoting outdoor activity to parents and families, and including more outdoor pursuits in school curricula could be an important public health measure to avoid the development of myopia,” says French.




Ways to curb falls in elderly.

A large-scale international review involving University of Sydney researchers has shed light on falls in older people, revealing some interventions can effectively prevent falls in people over 65 and living in their own homes.

The review, published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, included 159 trials involving more than 79,000 participants from Australia, the UK and New Zealand and was co-authored by the University of Sydney’s Professor Lindy Clemson, Faculty of Health Sciences and Associate Professor Cathie Sherrington, George Institute for Global Health.

The research was led by the University of Otago in New Zealand, and also involved researchers from the University of Hull and the University of Warwick in the UK.

“Falls have debilitating and isolating social consequences for older people, not to mention the increasing economic cost they present in our ageing population,” says Professor Clemson.

“Our review found a number of interventions can prevent older people from falling, with solutions as simple as wearing an anti-slip shoe device in icy conditions and as complex as surgical and drug treatments. We found multiple-component exercises for groups or individuals significantly reduced the risk of falls.”

In fact, three trials in the review found that interventions could save more money than they cost.

Falls affect approximately 30 percent of people over 65 living in the community. Around one in five falls requires medical attention, and one in ten results in a fracture.

“Falls can start a downward spiral of immobility, reduced confidence, and incapacity leading to institutionalisation, so it’s really important we tackle the issue to prevent as many falls as possible,” says Professor Clemson, who developed a program for falls prevention published in the British Medical Journal last month.

The Cochrane review found performing safety modifications and behaviour changes in the home to be particularly effective in falls reduction, especially for people with severe visual impairments and when the assessment was carried out by a qualified occupational therapist.

Some forms of medication changes and surgery also reduced falling, with people fitted for pacemakers for particular heart rate disorders (carotid sinus hypersensitivity) falling less often than those without the pacemakers. Women receiving cataract surgery on the first eye also had a reduced rate of falling, although removing the cataract from the second eye had no further effect.

According to the review, older people may be at an increased risk of falling while adjusting to new glasses or major changes in prescriptions. However, the risk reduced when people wearing multifocal glasses who took part in activities outside the home swapped their multifocals for two separate pairs of glasses for distance and close vision tasks.

Source: Science Alert

Pregnancy-related cancers on rise.

The rate of pregnancy-associated cancer is increasing and is only partially explained by the rising number of older mothers according to research led by the University of Sydney.

The researchers say improved diagnostic techniques, detection and increased interaction with health services during pregnancy may contribute to the higher rates of pregnancy-associated cancer.

The findings, co-authored by Dr Christine Roberts from the Kolling Institute at Sydney Medical School, were recently published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Cathy Lee, a Masters student in Biostatics at the University, is lead author of the study.

“The genetic and environmental origins of pregnancy-associated cancers are likely to pre-date the pregnancy but the hormones and growth factors necessary for a baby to develop may accelerate the growth of a tumour,” Dr Christine Roberts said.

The Australian study looked at 1.3 million births between 1994 and 2008. The rate of pregnancy-associated cancer, where the initial diagnosis of cancer is made during pregnancy or within 12 months of delivery, was compared to pregnant women without cancer (using the same parameters).

It found that over a 14-year period the incidence rate of pregnancy-associated cancer increased from 112.3 per 100,000 to 191.5

“Although this represents a 70 percent increase in cancers diagnosed during or soon after pregnancy it is important to note that cancer remains rare affecting about two in every 1000 pregnancies,” Dr Roberts said.

Although the age of the mother is a strong risk factor for cancer, increasing maternal age explained only some of the increase in cancer occurring.

“Pregnancy increases women’s interaction with health services and together with improved techniques for detecting cancer the possibility for diagnosis is therefore increased,” Dr Roberts said.

The most common cancers detected were skin melanomas, breast cancer, thyroid and other endocrine cancers, gynaecological and lymphohaematopoeitic cancers. The high incidence of melanoma may relate to the fact Australia has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world.

The study also looked at pregnancy outcomes and found that cancer during pregnancy was associated with a significantly increased risk of caesarean section and planned preterm birth which may be to allow cancer treatment to commence.

Importantly there was no evidence of harm to the babies of women with cancer – they were not at increased risk of reduced growth or death.

Source: Science Alert



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