Brain boosts and the Queen on a horse…

MODERATE exercise a few times a week can keep the minds of the over-50s sharp, according to reports this morning. This is good news for those of us who try to keep fit by running away from what Andrew Marvell called “time’s winged chariot”.

That chariot was “hurrying near”, according to the metaphysical poet and man of Hull. It wasn’t death on his mind so much as sex: he was, to put it crudely, pleading his case in the hope of a shag.

And if he had been aiming to dodge death, there was a final irony in the poem To His Coy Mistress: Marvell was dead by the time it was published.

The poem was on the A-level syllabus back in the dusty desk of time, and perhaps it still is today. Anyway, I liked the poem – and the poet’s name, which I half-inched for the first crime novel I wrote (sadly never published).

Marvell seems to have distracted me from my starting point, which is an Australian study reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The study draws on 39 trials involving 13,000 adults and found that thinking and memory skills were most improved when people exercised the heart and muscles on a regular basis.

This improvement could be seen even in those who were already showing signs of cognitive decline.

Exercises such as T’ai Chi were recommended for those over 50 who couldn’t manage more challenging forms of exercise. I couldn’t see horse-riding mentioned anywhere, but our Queen seems keen on that form of exercise, as the front of today’s Daily Express reminds us.

Now I don’t know if this was happy juxtaposition or just one of those things no one noticed, but the Express carries this story under the headline: “EXERCISE TO BEAT DEMENTIA” right next to a photograph of Her Majesty scowling on a horse. “Queen gets wrapped up as icy blast hits Britain,” reads the headline.

By making companions of those two stories, the Express celebrates various common obsessions: health being one and the weather another. That ‘icy blast’ can be literal in that the day was unduly chilly, and sometimes it can be political and ideological: the invading hordes of foreigners the newspaper sees over every horizon.

The trouble with relying on the newspapers for health alerts is that you never know if you are coming or going. One minute the over-50s could be eyeing their bus-pass to eternity; the next they could spot that Marvell’s winged chariot was about to run them over.

The zigzagging extremes of good and bad news can be exhausting, and someone ought to conduct a study into whether reading health stories is bad for your health.

Anyway, I like this study. No time to put on the running shoes today, but if exercise boosts the brain by increasing supplies of blood, oxygen and nutrients, as well as a growth hormone that helps form new neurons and connections, well that can’t be bad.

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