Monday, August 28, 2017

“Regular physical exercise not only enhances fitness but also has a positive impact on brain metabolism”

“Numerous studies have shown that physical exercise seems beneficial in the prevention of cognitive impairment and dementia in old age. Now researchers at Goethe University Frankfurt have explored in one of the first studies worldwide how exercise affects brain metabolism. 

“In order to further advance current state of knowledge on the positive influence of physical activity on the brain, gerontologists and sports physicians at Goethe University Frankfurt have examined the effects of regular exercise on brain metabolism and memory of 60 participants aged between 65 and 85 in a randomised controlled trial. Their conclusion: regular physical exercise not only enhances fitness but also has a positive impact on brain metabolism.

“As the researchers report in the current issue of the medical journal Translational Psychiatry, they thoroughly examined all the participants in the SMART study (Sport and Metabolism in Older Persons, an MRT Study) by assessing movement-related parameters, cardiopulmonary fitness and cognitive performance. In addition, magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) were used to measure brain metabolism and brain structure. 

“Following this examination, the participants mounted an exercise bike three times a week over a period of 12 weeks. The 30-minute training sessions were individually adapted to each participant's performance level. The participants were examined again after the end of the programme in order to document the effects of this physical activity on brain metabolism, cognitive performance and brain structure. 

“The researchers also investigated to what extent exercise had led to an improvement in the participants' physical fitness. The study was conducted by the Gerontology Department of the Institute of General Medicine (headed by Professor Johannes Pantel) and the Department of Sports Medicine (led by Professor Winfried Banzer).

“As expected, physical activity had influenced brain metabolism: it prevented an increase in choline. The concentration of this metabolite often rises as a result of the increased loss of nerve cells, which typically occurs in the case of Alzheimer's disease. Physical exercise led to stable cerebral choline concentrations in the training group, whereas choline levels increased in the control group. The participants' physical fitness also improved: they showed increased cardiac efficiency after the training period. Overall, these findings suggest that physical exercise not only improves physical fitness but also protects cells.” 

More information: S Matura et al. Effects of aerobic exercise on brain metabolism and grey matter volume in older adults: results of the randomised controlled SMART trial, Translational Psychiatry (2017). DOI: 10.1038/tp.2017.135


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Dancing has the most profound effect on the brain: “Teach me to dance, will you?” – Zorba the Greek

“As we grow older we suffer a decline in mental and physical fitness, which can be made worse by conditions like Alzheimer's disease. A new study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, shows that older people who routinely partake in physical exercise can reverse the signs of aging in the brain, and dancing has the most profound effect. 

“‘Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity,’ says Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, based at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, Germany. ‘In this study, we show that two different types of physical exercise (dancing and endurance training) both increase the area of the brain that declines with age. In comparison, it was only dancing that lead to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance.’

“Elderly volunteers, with an average age of 68, were recruited to the study and assigned either an eighteen-month weekly course of learning dance routines, or endurance and flexibility training. Both groups showed an increase in the hippocampus region of the brain. This is important because this area can be prone to age-related decline and is affected by diseases like Alzheimer's. It also plays a key role in memory and learning, as well as keeping one's balance.

“While previous research has shown that physical exercise can combat age-related brain decline, it is not known if one type of exercise can be better than another. To assess this, the exercise routines given to the volunteers differed. The traditional fitness training program conducted mainly repetitive exercises, such as cycling or Nordic walking, but the dance group were challenged with something new each week.

“Dr Rehfeld explains, ‘We tried to provide our seniors in the dance group with constantly changing dance routines of different genres (Jazz, Square, Latin-American and Line Dance). Steps, arm-patterns, formations, speed and rhythms were changed every second week to keep them in a constant learning process. The most challenging aspect for them was to recall the routines under the pressure of time and without any cues from the instructor.’

“These extra challenges are thought to account for the noticeable difference in balance displayed by those participants in dancing group. Dr Rehfeld and her colleagues are building on this research to trial new fitness programs that have the potential of maximizing anti-aging effects on the brain.

“‘Right now, we are evaluating a new system called ‘Jymmin’ (jamming and gymnastic). This is a sensor-based system which generates sounds (melodies, rhythm) based on physical activity. We know that dementia patients react strongly when listening to music. We want to combine the promising aspects of physical activity and active music making in a feasibility study with dementia patients.’

“Dr Rehfeld concludes with advice that could get us up out of our seats and dancing to our favorite beat. ‘I believe that everybody would like to live an independent and healthy life, for as long as possible. Physical activity is one of the lifestyle factors that can contribute to this, counteracting several risk factors and slowing down age-related decline. I think dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age.’”

This study falls into a broader collection of research investigating the cognitive and neural effects of physical and cognitive activity across the lifespan

More information: Kathrin Rehfeld et al, Dancing or Fitness Sport? The Effects of Two Training Programs on Hippocampal Plasticity and Balance Abilities in Healthy Seniors, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (2017). DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00305


Friday, August 25, 2017


“‘It’s not a voucher. It’s a scholarship tax credit,’ a reader lectured [Fred Klonsky].

“Baloney. If the members of the Illinois General Assembly agree to what the leaders of their party caucuses negotiated on school funding, they will put in place a $75 million voucher plan.

“Democratic Party legislators will do what Senator Daniel Biss told [the Klonsky brothers] on Hitting Left was a red line that Democrats should or would not cross.

“Chicago’s Raise Your Hand provides a summary of tax credit scholarships”:

What are tax credit scholarships?
Businesses or individuals give money to private schools or to third-party ‘scholarship organizations’ to cover tuition at private schools. Contributors then get tax credits for the amount they donated or a percentage of that amount.

How do tax credit scholarships compare with vouchers?
Vouchers are direct payments from government funds to a family or a private school to cover private school tuition. Both vouchers and tax credit scholarships divert public tax revenue to private schools.

What’s wrong with tax credit scholarships?
They allow businesses and individuals to earmark where their tax dollars are going by sending those dollars to private, including religious, schools.

How are tax credits different from tax deductions?
Tax credits typically decrease your tax bill by more than tax deductions. Instead of paying a tax bill of $X, you pay $X minus credit. A deduction decreases the amount of income you are taxed on.

How do tax credit scholarships hurt other charitable causes?
They make donations to these scholarship funds more attractive than donations to other causes.

Would donors get a deduction and a credit for these scholarship donations?
The current Illinois proposal would only give one or the other. In states where donors get a deduction and a 100% credit, donors can actually make a profit from tax scholarship credit contributions.

How do they hurt public schools?
Illinois already doesn’t collect enough tax revenue to pay for the things a functioning state needs. Public schools are underfunded and the neediest schools have the fewest resources. The bipartisan state commission on Ed funding found that IL needs to spend a minimum of $3.5B more than it currently spends to adequately fund all public schools.

Who do voucher programs help?
Voucher programs in other states have subsidized families who were never going to send their children to public school in the first place. The proposal in Illinois would include a family of four making up to $113,000.

Who do these programs hurt?
Private schools can discriminate in admissions on any basis. They can exclude children based on disabilities, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or even just behavior or academic ability. Public schools can’t turn students away and they’ll have a shrinking pot of funding to educate all students.

Why worry about a program that might only cost $25 million?
Similar programs in other states have started small and then ballooned. Wisconsin’s voucher program began with $700K and is now $245M. Indiana’s started as $7M in 2011 and is now almost $150M. Illinois’ proposal could grow by 25% a year to nearly $1 billion in a decade.

“The Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy calls them neovouchers.

“The deal the Party leaders put together was done behind closed doors. Unless you live in the districts of those four party leaders, your State Representative and Senator were not involved and had no voice.

“Like past pension reform legislation it is likely they will not have read what they will be voting on.

“Constituent contact is now vital. Call your state representative and senator and tell them you oppose this massive tax scam that benefits the wealthy and undermines public schools. And that you expect them to oppose it to. They may tell you it is the best deal to get schools open.

“That is baloney too. Vote no and they can bargain some more without including a $75 million voucher plan” –Fred Klonsky

Join Wendy Katten, Cassie Creswell, Brandon Johnson and Mike Klonsky on Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers today, Friday, August 25 at 11am. 105.5 CDT. Streaming live on the internet Available later as a podcast:

They will be discussing all this.

from Fred Klonsky’s Blog: If it quacks it’s a voucher.


What do we know about vouchers and charter schools?

·         Money intended for public schools will go to private schools

·         This money will be in the bank accounts of private investors

·         Voucher proponents prefer selective admission policies that continue the inequality, stratification, and segregation of students (race, religion, and class or income)

·         Voucher proponents “represent the most reactionary elements of our society”

·         Vouchers are not about “saving children” or “improving education.” It is about destroying public education and making profits

·         Vouchers do not increase “Parental choice and control over tax dollars”

·         “Big money” is financing this campaign

·         Voucher advocates are often referred to as “nonpartisan”

·         Koch Brothers, Eli Broad Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, and other corporate education reformers are proponents of vouchers (and charter schools)

·         Private schools have no accountability, especially for children with disabilities 

·         Privatizers do not acknowledge the role of poverty that creates educational disadvantages

·         There are no “reliable data” that prove vouchers and charter schools perform better than public schools; there is evidence to the contrary, however

·         "We Ask America" poll, commissioned by the Illinois Policy Institute (an organization deeply invested in charter school chains), is questionable

·         There is no separation of church and state in private schools

·         Vouchers have been “declared unconstitutional” in North Carolina; other legal debates continue

·         It has been noted there is “rampant fraud and abuse” in many for-profit voucher programs

·         The latest Gallup Poll (2013) found that “70 percent of Americans oppose the use of public funds for religious or private schools”

·         “The Milwaukee voucher schools have never outperformed the public schools on state tests: Read here and here. The only dispute about test scores is whether voucher students are doing the same or worse than their peers in public schools. Read here about some very low-performing schools in Milwaukee that have never been held accountable”
·         “Steve Hinnefeld analyzed Indiana’s growth scores and found that public schools usually showed greater gains than charters or religious schools”

·         “Public school students perform as well as or better than comparable children in private schools” (U.S. Department of Education) Diane Ravitch, Death and Life of the Great American School System)

·         Some charter operators are opened by “hedge-fund managers, for-profit firms, and get-rich-quick schemers” (Ravitch)

·         Some charter schools (of choice) have been under “federal criminal investigation for nepotism, conflicts of interest, and financial mismanagement” (Ravitch)

·         “Enthusiasm for charter schools far outstripped research evidence for their efficacy… Too many promises that are only, at best, weakly supported by evidence” (Ravitch)

            "Rhetoric of many charter school advocates has come to sound uncannily similar to the rhetoric of voucher proponents and of the most rabid haters of public schooling. They often sound as though they want public schools to fail; they want to convert entire districts to charter schools, each with its own curriculum and methods, each with its own private management, all competing for students and public dollars” (Ravitch)

             “The charter movement is now part of the growing privatization of public education and Wall Street sees an emerging market.   Take a look at this piece published last fall on ‘…dozens of bankers, hedge fund types and private equity investors…’ gathered to discuss ‘…investing in for-profit education companies…’ There’s a potential gold rush here. Public education from kindergarten through high school pulls in more than $500 billion in taxpayer revenues every year, and crony capitalists and politicians alike are cashing in…” (Bill Moyers). 

-Glen Brown