Zorba Paster: Healthy Exercise Is Key To Maintaining Memory

Making Football 'Safer' Will Help Some Keep Brain's Healthier, Zorba Paster Says

neon brain
Dierk Schaefer (CC BY 2.0)

Want to improve your memory?

Try yoga.

Or tai chi.

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Or perhaps a walk in the park.

Do it for 10 minutes. That certainly seems like a short period of time. But this teeny tiny time investment can reap big benefits. Researchers out of the University of California-Irvine have shown it might help memory formation and storage.

They put nearly 40 young adults in functional MRI machines, looking at which parts of their brains activated after these short workouts. The connectivity between the hippocampus and cortical areas — the connection parts of the brain responsible for memory — were lit up more than usual.

The hippocampus is critical for new memories. When that part of the brain deteriorates, memories are shot. Keeping this part of your brain nourished is critical to keeping your brain functioning.

The result is clear — a little bit of exercise can go a long way. This is encouraging, especially for people who don’t do much. Perhaps I should rephrase that — for people who don’t do anything.

This time of year, when the nights are long and the days are short, it makes it harder than ever to get out and do something. But let me ask you: As you age, aren’t you worried about your memory? I bet many of you are.

Just look at how much money is spent on memory supplements and you can see how large that market is. So here we have something that costs nothing, something we know is good for your physical health, that takes just 10 minutes a day. Really, if you don’t have 10 minutes a day to do this, then you’re too scheduled. That’s the bottom line.

Now, if you want to make your memory worse, become a football player. After kickoff, big and strong humans start running toward each other at breakneck speed. It creates one of the greatest potential for harm in sports.

These are gladiators jousting down the field — not with the swords of old, but with the helmets of modern times. Big shoulders, big padding, big humans, big trouble.

A new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association shows how rule changes might help. But before that, let’s go back to 1905, when 18 college men died playing football.

Back then, the sport was even more dangerous, more violent. Many a game ended with guys getting broken backs and broken necks. According to the Washington Post, nearly every death was due to victims being smashed in the head, kicked in the stomach or wrenched in the spine in an attempt to get the ball.

In those days, the clock ticked on when a guy was on the field, enticing players to kick and twist him, trying to wrench the ball out of his hands. Geez.

The Ivy League was ready to outlaw this when old Teddy Roosevelt came the rescue. He convened a group that came up with new rules including the wide receiver and the forward pass, which previously had been considered — and I quote now — “a sissy move.”

It turned the game around by spreading players out over the entire field. There was less packing up, less scrambling, less viciously vying for the ball. These were rule changes that worked.

Back to today. This new study of Ivy League football looked at concussions — 6 percent of the game is the kickoff but these plays account for 20 percent of all concussions. The Ivy experiment was to move the kickoff from the 35-yard-line to the 40-yard-line, while the ball-placement spot after a touchback (when a player does not run the ball out of the end zone) moved from the 25-yard-line back to the 20-yard-line.

The intention was to have more kickoffs land in the end zone, reducing the likelihood that the receiving player would advance the ball and thus increasing touchbacks. However, moving the touchback line to the 20-yard-line could cause receivers to try to advance the ball, possibly decreasing touchbacks.

Now, the numbers: 68,000 plays from 2013 to 2017 were analyzed. In those plays, 159 concussions occurred including 126 before the rule change but only 33 after the rule change. That’s a whopping decrease. Kickoffs resulting in touchbacks increased from 18 percent to 48 percent, doing exactly what the rule change was designed to do.

My spin: Recently a patient of mine, a high school football coach, asked me what I thought of his son playing college ball. My answer: if he were my kid, I’d say no. It’s time to take action. Make football safer just like they did more than 100 years ago. Stay well.