Why Exercise (3)? For body AND brain.

There's a fun side to exercise, and there's a serious side, and here are a couple more examples showing the serious results of the fun side - fun, that is, if you like exercise.

A team at Southampton University, led by Professor Mike Grocott, have discovered that putting patients on a course of exercise training can have highly beneficial effects on the outcomes of their cancer surgery - a treatment that they term 'pre-habilitation'.

Earlier in the year this same team of doctors reported, and published in the European Journal of Surgical Oncology, that a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy) - which people suffering from bowel cancer often require prior to surgery - could have damaging effects on the patient's physical condition for when they undergo the surgery. This, in turn, could result in a significant worsening of outcomes for the surgery.

Generally, doctors recommend exercise post-surgery as an aid to recovery. But in this case the doctors wanted to test their theory that the outcome of the surgery would be improved if the patients had better fitness going into it.

So they ran a trial whereby they put the bowel cancer patients through a course of physical training on exercise bikes between the chemoradiotherapy course and the surgery. The doctors found that their tailored six-week training course restored the patients' fitness to their pre-chemoradiotherapy level, or even improved on it. On the other hand, the fitness level of the control group who didn't go through the training regime remained at the lower post-chemo fitness levels, or even declined further by the time they reached surgery.

The average age of the patients in the trial was 64 years old.

Although the long-term results are not deemed to be definitive at present, there was observed to be a marked reduction in length of (hospital) stay, readmission rates and cardiorespiratory complications among those who did the physical training according to Dr Sandy Jack a consultant clinical scientist and exercise specialist.

Professor Grocott said that they were excited that their findings indicated a likelihood of improved outcomes by introducing early exercise programmes, but larger studies were required to see if the theory would be proved to be true.

So, keep yourself in good shape and if you ever need surgery you'll be improving your chances of a good outcome.

On another subject, there is yet more evidence connecting fitness levels with brain health in later life, according to a study from the University of Illinois, an important finding given the ageing world population and the fears of consequent rising occurrence of dementia.

Researchers in a study led by Beckman Institute director Arthur Kramer found that greater cardiorespiratory fitness was associated with stronger connections between different areas of the brain later in life. These connections within the brain usually weaken with age, but the strength of the connections were found to vary relative to aerobic fitness, although no cause-and-effect relationship was found.

"Our study provides the strongest evidence to date that fitness in an older adult population can have substantial benefits to brain health in terms of the functional connections of different regions of the brain," said Kramer in a university news release. Although there are many benefits from being physically active, in this case the benefits stem from fitness levels alone, and according to study leader Michelle Voss, the "benefits of fitness seem to occur within the low-to-moderate range of endurance, suggesting that the benefits of fitness for the brain may not depend on being extremely fit".

So it seems from both these cases that the benefits of fitness are not limited to people who have trained themselves to the level where they can take on an Ironman triathlon, for instance. They start at a much more modest level.

However, that isn't a reason for not working towards an Ironman. If anything, it means that it's even more worth trying since the benefits do accrue even by just working towards one - and they start within as short a time span as six weeks, evidently. And if you do make it onto a triathlon start-line, then how bad is that?