How Even Mild COVID Can Affect the Brain; This Many Daily Steps Improves Longevity; and More

Jennifer E. Engen

Long COVID Study Finds Notable Changes in Brains of Those Mildly Infected

As people age, they lose a miniscule amount of the brain’s gray matter every year. A common amount of loss related to memory is about .2 percent, researchers say.

However, a new study published this week by scientists in the United Kingdom looked at long COVID’s impact on the brain. They found that COVID patients who underwent a second brain scan close to five months after their initial infection lost more gray matter than non-infected study participants, according to the study published in the journal Nature

Through a series of MRI scans, the researchers found evidence of an average decline in the overall size of the brain after COVID infection. The scans showed signs of tissue damage in areas of the brain related to smell, and a reduction of gray matter in parts linked to memory that surpasses the average loss experienced by individuals as they age.

The findings are especially striking because the study involved mostly people who were mildly affected by their initial COVID infection. The nearly 800 study participants, aged 51–81, did not require hospitalization during their initial infection.

Having MRI brain scans of participants before their COVID infections marked a significant advantage for researchers. “The availability of pre-infection imaging data reduces the likelihood of pre-existing risk factors being misinterpreted as disease effects,” the study states. The study is considered the first to focus on people who underwent brain scans before and after COVID.

The researches emphasized the need for further studies of the linger effect of COVID on the brain. “Whether this deleterious impact can be partially reversed, or whether these effects will persist in the long term, remains to be investigated with additional follow up,” the study concludes.

Global Study Finds Ideal Daily Steps to Take For Longevity

A group of international scientists, calling itself the Steps for Health Collaborative, oversaw an analysis of 15 studies involving nearly 50,000 people from four continents — Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America. The goal: Determine the precise number of daily steps that an individual needs to take to maintain health and longevity.

The group’s conclusion: Adults 60 and older benefit from 6,000 to 8,000 steps per day. More steps than 8,000 daily did not provide any benefit to living longer. Adults younger than 60 require about 8,000 to 10,000 steps per day. The same applies to the younger age category — more than 10,000 steps do not add to longevity. The findings were published March 2 in Lancet Public Health.

The goal of 10,000 steps per day is widely used standard which originated many years ago from a marketing campaign in Japan. But it was not based on scientific research. Last year, a separate study found that adults at middle-age who walked at least 7,000 steps a day, on average, were 50 percent to 70 percent less likely to die of any cause over the next decade, compared with adults who took fewer steps, according to results published in JAMA Network Open.

Researchers said there was “inconsistent evidence” that increasing the intensity of walking helped beyond the volume of steps.

The study’s authors state: “Number of daily steps is a simple and feasible measure for monitoring and promoting physical activity globally as fitness trackers and mobile devices increase in popularity. Our findings suggest mortality benefits, particularly for older adults, can occur at levels less than the popular reference value of 10 000 steps per day. The findings from this meta-analysis can be used to inform step guidelines for public health promotion of physical activity.”

CDC Marks 10th Year of Anti-Smoking Campaign With New Ads from Former Smokers 

Many people don’t realize that cigarette smoking remains the single largest cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S. despite significant progress in reducing the smoking rates over the decades.

Now, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) is marking the 10th anniversary of its Tips From Former Smokers campaign with new ads encouraging people who smoke to quit.

“The campaign has had significant and sustained impact over the past decade, helping more than 1 million U.S. adults to quite smoking and inspiring millions more to try to quit,” the CDC states in a news release. The so-called Tips campaign promotes the 1-800-QUIT-NOW telephone-based counseling service. Now it will also promote the National Texting Portal developed in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute.

Available in English and Spanish, the portal is designed to reach adults who may want to receive text messages to support them as they attempt to quit. Adults can text QUITNOW to 333888 for free help in English or text DÉJELO YA to 333888 for free help in Spanish (mobile plan data and message rates may apply), according to the CDC.

“For the past 10 years, the Tips campaign has saved lives and smoking-related healthcare costs with powerful, effective ads that motivate adults to quit smoking,” said CDC Acting Deputy Director Debra Houry, M.D. “One of the most important actions people can take to improve their health is to quit smoking. Today, we’re releasing new ads and resources to inspire adults to make that lifesaving decision.”

Learn more from the CDC’s anti-smoking campaign and the new anti-smoking ads for 2022

Tags: COVID-19, exercise & fitness, longevity, neuroscience


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