Moderate levels of exercise may increase the brain’s flexibility and improve learning, a study suggests.

The visual cortex, the part of the brain that processes visual information, loses the ability to “rewire” itself with age, making it more difficult for adults to recover from injuries and illness, said Claudia Lunghi, a neuroscientist at the University of Pisa and one of the study’s authors.

In a study in the journal Current Biology, she and her colleagues asked 20 adults to watch a movie with one eye patched while relaxing in a chair. Later, the participants exercised on a stationary bike for 10-minute intervals while watching a movie.

When one eye is patched, the visual cortex compensates for the limited input by increasing its activity level. Lunghi and her colleagues tested the imbalance in strength between the participants’ eyes after the movie — a measure of changeability in the visual cortex. The differences in strength between the eyes were more pronounced after exercise, Lunghi and her colleagues found, suggests that exercise somehow increases the brain’s plasticity.

 

Cholesterol drugs go unused

Nearly half of Americans whose cholesterol readings put them at higher risk of heart attack or stroke are not taking medication to drive down that risk, said a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study makes it clear that public health authorities bent on preventing heart disease and stroke have their pick of a lot of low-hanging fruit. Worrisome cholesterol numbers are a strong risk factor in cardiovascular disease, which contributes to one in three deaths in the United States. All told, 44.5 percent of American adults likely to benefit from cholesterol-lowering drugs were not on one. But the cholesterol treatment gaps were far more pronounced among minorities than among white Americans. For example, 39.5 percent of blacks are considered “eligible” for such treatment. But 54 percent of eligible U.S. blacks were not taking medications to limit their risk.

 

Some cancer screenings rise

If you’re a low-income woman, you’re more likely to get screened for breast cancer if you live in a state that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act than in a state that didn’t.

According to research, low-income women who lived in a handful of early-adopter states that implemented Medicaid expansion by 2011 were 25 percent more likely to be screened for breast cancer in 2012 than women in non-expansion states. That’s a big change from 2008, when low-income women in both sets of states had similar odds of being screened.

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