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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Uh Oh. Look What Happens at Age 40


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It's not your imagination. It really is all downhill after age 40, and you can blame it on your brain. The part of the brain that is charge of motion begins to decline after four decades of life, impacting not only how fast you can throw a ball or run, but also swerve a steering wheel.

New research from the University of California, Los Angeles suggests that by middle age, even healthy people lose some of the insulation in the motor-control part of the brain, reports The Associated Press. Good insulation, which is a fat called myelin that coats nerve fibers, is key for the brain's wiring to fire fast commands to the body's muscles. Lead study author Dr. George Bartzokis, a UCLA neurologist, told AP this helps explain why "it's hard to be a world-class athlete after 40."

Bartzokis likens our brains to the Internet. For it to have speedy movement, it needs bandwidth, which for the brain is myelin. When the myelin is healthy and strong, it allows for the prompt conduction of the electrical signals that the brain uses to send commands, reports AP. The higher-frequency electrical discharges control all movement--whether it's running a marathon or scratching your earlobe. Bartzokis theorizes that great older athletes have better myelin than the rest of us. Concerning basketball legend Michael Jordan, he told AP, "The circuitry that made him a great basketball player was probably myelinated better than most other mortals."

While myelin grows during our teenage years, production of it begins to slow around age 40, according to Bartzokis' latest research. To test his theories, he recruited 72 healthy men, ages 23 to 80, to perform a simple test: Tap their index finger as many times as they could in 10 seconds. In addition to counting how many times each man could do this (the fastest two times out of 10 attempts were recorded), the researchers conducted brain scans to check for myelin in need of repair in the region that orders a finger to tap.

It's downhill after 40. The team found that both tapping speed and myelin health peaked at age 39 and then gradually declined with increasing age. However, the brain is not equally impacted. The areas responsible for cognitive functions and higher-level thinking start to fray about 10 years after the motor-skills area. The study findings were reported in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.
source: Netscape

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As seen in New York Times, Los Angeles Times, London Times, Boston Globe, Martha Stewart Radio, Bloomberg Radio, HealthSmart by Reader's Digest, Women's Health.

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