The “felt” age may reflect the true age of your brain +++ Das “gefühlte” Alter kann das wahre Alter des Gehirns widerspiegeln

New research shows that people who feel younger have the structural characteristics of a younger brain

Recent research by a team of researchers of the Seoul National University in Korea demonstrates that people’s “subjective age” — rather than their objective age — accurately predicts how young a brain really looks.

As people get older, their bodies will go through many changes. As for the brain, it also has a range of specific age-related signs that show that mental agility may start to decline.

The researchers Seyul Kwak, Hairin Kim, Jeanyung Chey and Yoosik Youm used MRI to detect signs of aging in the brains of 68 healthy people aged 59–84. They also used age-prediction modeling techniques to examine the changes in the participants’ gray matter volume. All study participants filled in a survey that asked them to answer questions about how young they felt.

The scientists conclude: “Our findings suggest that subjective experience of aging is closely related to the process of brain aging and underscores the neurobiological mechanisms of [subjective age] as an important marker of late-life neurocognitive health.”

In short: People who feel younger have the structural characteristics of a younger brain.

The researchers explain that this difference remains robust even when other possible factors, including personality, subjective health, depressive symptoms, or cognitive functions, are accounted for.

However, the processes behind this surprising link remain largely unexplained. The scientists suggest that, in what seems like a positive “self-fulfilling prophecy,” people who feel younger tend to engage in more physically and intellectually stimulating activities. On the other hand, if this is true, the opposite might happen to those who feel older.

Neue Studien zeigen, dass Menschen, die sich jünger fühlen, strukturelle Merkmale eines jüngeren Gehirns haben

Jüngste Forschungen eines Teams von Forschern der Seoul National University in Korea zeigen, dass das “subjektive Alter” der Menschen – und nicht ihr objektives Alter – genau vorhersagt, wie jung ein Gehirn wirklich aussieht.

Wenn Menschen älter werden, durchlaufen ihre Körper viele Veränderungen. Was das Gehirn betrifft, so gibt es auch eine Reihe spezifischer altersbezogener Anzeichen, die zeigen, dass die geistige Beweglichkeit abzunehmen beginnt.

Die Forscher Seyul Kwak, Hairin Kim, Jeanyung Chey und Yoosik Youm nutzten MRT, um Anzeichen von Alterung in den Gehirnen von 68 gesunden Menschen im Alter von 59 bis 84 Jahren zu erkennen. Sie verwendeten auch Altersprädiktions-Modellierungsverfahren, um die Veränderungen im Volumen der grauen Substanz der Teilnehmer zu untersuchen. Alle Studienteilnehmer füllten einen Fragebogen aus, der sie aufforderte, Fragen darüber zu beantworten, wie jung sie sich fühlten.

Die Wissenschaftler schließen daraus: “Unsere Ergebnisse legen nahe, dass die subjektive Erfahrung des Alterns eng mit dem Prozess des Alterns des Gehirns verbunden ist und die neurobiologischen Mechanismen des [subjektiven Alters] als wichtigen Marker der neurokognitiven Gesundheit des späten Lebens unterstreicht.”

Kurz gesagt: Menschen, die sich jünger fühlen, haben die strukturellen Merkmale eines jüngeren Gehirns.

Die Forscher erklären, dass dieser Unterschied robust bleibt, auch wenn andere mögliche Faktoren wie Persönlichkeit, subjektive Gesundheit, depressive Symptome oder kognitive Funktionen berücksichtigt werden.

Die Prozesse hinter dieser überraschenden Verbindung bleiben jedoch weitgehend ungeklärt. Die Wissenschaftler vermuten, dass Menschen, die sich jünger fühlen, in einer scheinbar positiven “sich selbst erfüllenden Prophezeiung” körperlich und intellektuell stimulierende Aktivitäten ausüben. Wenn das stimmt könnte das Gegenteil passieren, wenn Menschen sich älter fühlen.

Original Research Article published by:

Kwak, S., Kim, H., Chey, J., & Youm, Y. (2018). Feeling How Old I Am: Subjective Age Is Associated With Estimated Brain Age. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 10, 168.

The Yogi masters were right – breathing exercises can sharpen your mind

New research explains link between breath-focused meditation and brain health

It has long been claimed by Yogis and Buddhists that meditation and ancient breath-focused practices, such as pranayama, strengthen our ability to focus on tasks. A new study by researchers at Trinity College Dublin explains for the first time the neurophysiological link between breathing and attention.

Breath-focused meditation and yogic breathing practices have numerous known cognitive benefits, including increased ability to focus, decreased mind wandering, improved arousal levels, more positive emotions, decreased emotional reactivity, along with many others. To date, however, no direct neurophysiological link between respiration and cognition has been suggested.

The research shows for the first time that breathing – a key element of meditation and mindfulness practices – directly affects the levels of a natural chemical messenger in the brain called noradrenaline. This chemical messenger is released when we are challenged, curious, exercised, focused or emotionally aroused, and, if produced at the right levels, helps the brain grow new connections, like a brain fertiliser. The way we breathe, in other words, directly affects the chemistry of our brains in a way that can enhance our attention and improve our brain health.

The study, carried out by researchers at Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience and the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity, found that participants who focused well while undertaking a task that demanded a lot of attention had greater synchronisation between their breathing patterns and their attention, than those who had poor focus. The authors believe that it may be possible to use breath-control practices to stabilise attention and boost brain health.

Michael Melnychuk, PhD candidate at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, Trinity, and lead author of the study, explained: “Practitioners of yoga have claimed for some 2,500 years, that respiration influences the mind. In our study we looked for a neurophysiological link that could help explain these claims by measuring breathing, reaction time, and brain activity in a small area in the brainstem called the locus coeruleus, where noradrenaline is made. Noradrenaline is an all-purpose action system in the brain. When we are stressed we produce too much noradrenaline and we can’t focus. When we feel sluggish, we produce too little and again, we can’t focus. There is a sweet spot of noradrenaline in which our emotions, thinking and memory are much clearer.”

“This study has shown that as you breathe in locus coeruleus activity is increasing slightly, and as you breathe out it decreases. Put simply this means that our attention is influenced by our breath and that it rises and falls with the cycle of respiration. It is possible that by focusing on and regulating your breathing you can optimise your attention level and likewise, by focusing on your attention level, your breathing becomes more synchronised.”

The research provides deeper scientific understanding of the neurophysiological mechanisms which underlie ancient meditation practices. The findings were recently published in a paper entitled ‘Coupling of respiration and attention via the locus coeruleus: Effects of meditation and pranayama’ in the journal Psychophysiology. Further research could help with the development of non-pharmacological therapies for people with attention compromised conditions such as ADHD and traumatic brain injury and in supporting cognition in older people.

There are traditionally two types of breath-focused practices — those that emphasise focus on breathing (mindfulness), and those that require breathing to be controlled (deep breathing practices such as pranayama). In cases when a person’s attention is compromised, practices which emphasise concentration and focus, such as mindfulness, where the individual focuses on feeling the sensations of respiration but make no effort to control them, could possibly be most beneficial. In cases where a person’s level of arousal is the cause of poor attention, for example drowsiness while driving, a pounding heart during an exam, or during a panic attack, it should be possible to alter the level of arousal in the body by controlling breathing. Both of these techniques have been shown to be effective in both the short and the long term.

Ian Robertson, Co-Director of the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity and Principal Investigator of the study added: “Yogis and Buddhist practitioners have long considered the breath an especially suitable object for meditation. It is believed that by observing the breath, and regulating it in precise ways—a practice known as pranayama—changes in arousal, attention, and emotional control that can be of great benefit to the meditator are realised. Our research finds that there is evidence to support the view that there is a strong connection between breath-centred practices and a steadiness of mind.”

“Our findings could have particular implications for research into brain ageing. Brains typically lose mass as they age, but less so in the brains of long term meditators. More ‘youthful’ brains have a reduced risk of dementia and mindfulness meditation techniques actually strengthen brain networks. Our research offers one possible reason for this – using our breath to control one of the brain’s natural chemical messengers, noradrenaline, which in the right ‘dose’ helps the brain grow new connections between cells. This study provides one more reason for everyone to boost the health of their brain using a whole range of activities ranging from aerobic exercise to mindfulness meditation.”

Reference:   Melnychuk, M.C., Dockree, P.M, O’Connell, R.G,  Murphy, P.R, Balsters, J.H,  Robertson, I.H. (2018). Coupling of respiration and attention via the locus coeruleus: Effects of meditation and pranayama, Psychophysiology,  https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.13091

Source: Trinity News