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A neuroscientist shares the 4 brain-changing benefits of exercise—and how much she does every week

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When we think about the benefits of exercise, we usually think of better sleep, more energy, maintaining a healthy weight, stronger muscles or a healthier heart.

These are all true. But we rarely consider the immediate effects that physical activity can have on the most important organ in our bodies: the brain.

Through my years of research as a neuroscientist, I’ve found that exercising is one of the most transformative things you can do to improve cognitive abilities, such as learning, thinking, memory, focus and reasoning — all of which can help you become smarter and live longer.

How exercise boosts your brain health

1. It decreases feelings of anxiety

Studies have shown that every time your move your body, a number of beneficial neurotransmitters, including dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin and acetylcholine, gets released into your brain.

These substances can decrease feelings of anxiety and depression. (Think of them as a neurochemical “bubble bath” for your brain.)

It only takes between 10 and 30 minutes of daily physical activity to instantly life your mood. No gym membership? Take a short walk, or use the stairs instead of the elevator.

When I’m crunched for time, I’ll simply pace a few laps around my dining room table.

2. It improves your focus and concentration

In one of my lab experiments, I found that a single workout can help improve your ability to shift and focus attention.

This is an immediate benefit that can last for at least two hours after 30 minutes of exercise. I recommend activities that increase your heart rate, such as brisk walking, running, swimming, cycling, playing tennis or jumping rope.

Studies have also shown that one workout session can improve your reaction times — which means, for example, that you’re going to be much faster at catching that cup of coffee before it falls off the table.

3. It promotes the growth of new brain cells

One of the most significant benefits of exercise, scientists have found, is that it promotes neurogenesis, or the birth of new brain cells. This is essential to improving cognitive function.

Researchers have shown in rats and mice that running ramps up the creation of new brain cells in the hippocampus, a small seahorse-shaped part of the brain devoted to memory formation and storage.

Exercise also can improve the health and function of the synapses between neurons in this region, allowing brain cells to better communicate.

4. It protects your brain from aging and neurodegenerative diseases

Imagine your brain as a muscle: the more workout you put into it, the stronger and bigger it gets.

Longitudinal studies in humans suggest that regular exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, both of which are susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

So while exercising won’t completely prevent or cure normal cognitive decline in aging, doing it consistently can help reduce or delay the onset of it. In many ways, exercise is like a supercharged 401(k) for your brain — and it’s even better, because it’s free.

You don’t have to become a triathlete



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Turkey uncertainty leaves little appeal for investors, strategist says

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) gestures as he delivers a speech on stage, with on the background banknotes of the Turkish Lira, during the Annual Evaluation Meeting for the 2019 year. Ankara, January 16, 2020.

ADEM ALTAN | AFP

The unpredictability of Turkey’s fiscal and monetary policy means investors should stay away until normality is restored, according to Ozan Ozkural, managing partner of boutique investment firm Tanto Capital Partners.

The Turkish lira collapsed to previously unfathomable record lows this week as the country’s central bank, the TCMB, continues to cut interest rates despite rising double-digit inflation.

Inflation is approaching 20% in the country of around 85 million people, meaning prices of basic goods have soared while salaries in the local currency have devalued considerably.

Speaking to CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Wednesday, Ozkural said the issue lay not just with the contrarian loosening of monetary policy as central banks around the world look to tighten, but with the method through which it is being carried out.

“Investors, we like nothing less, if you will, than an unpredictable monetary and fiscal policy, and therefore Turkish assets and Turkish risk is becoming very difficult to price,” Ozkural said.

“In this context, I just cannot imagine any investor coming into the country in the short term until this changes.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has defended his central bank’s continued loosening of monetary policy, an approach he has pushed for in a bid to “lift this scourge of interest rates from people’s backs.”

The central bank has cut its main policy rate by 300 basis points since September, sending the already depreciating currency into freefall as investors flee Turkish assets.

“Turkey is a large country, it is geostrategically very important, the market dynamics, demographics work in its favor, and it’s extremely resilient to shocks,” Ozkural said, adding that the Turkish economy has proven adept at dealing with crises in the past.

But he suggested that investing in Turkish assets at present carries too many unknowns, even over a longer time period.

“In this current climate, until we shift to a fundamentally credible reformist stance — within either this government or, whenever the elections take place, the next one — it is very difficult to invest long term in the country right now,” he said.

“But it doesn’t take away from how important and how significant Turkey will be for investors in the medium to long term.”

A ‘fundamental change’ to the TCMB’s function

The lira has been sliding for several years, from trading around 3.5 to the dollar in mid-2017 to a previously unthinkable 13.44 on Tuesday. Much of this decline was fueled by geopolitical tensions, a substantial current account deficit, mounting debts and shrinking currency reserves, compounded by Erdogan’s staunch opposition to interest rate hikes.

But in a research note Tuesday, Goldman Sachs highlighted that the “causes of the current sell-off differ from the past.”

“The current account deficit, the key vulnerability in 2020, has more than halved compared with last year. We have observed only a limited acceleration in loan growth and a minor pickup in dollarisation recently,” Goldman Sachs associate Murat Unur and economist Clemens Grafe said.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting with businesspeople in Istanbul, Turkey, January 15, 2021.

Presidential Press Office | via Reuters

They also pointed out that portfolio flows, derivative exposures and debt rollover rates had not altered significantly up until this point.

“We therefore think the sell-off has been driven mostly by the impact of rate cuts on local expectations and the demand for TRY.”

Unur and Grafe suggested that the latest rate cuts represent a “fundamental change in the TCMB’s reaction function.”

“While it could be argued that the TCMB has been excessively dovish in the past — e.g., cutting deeply in 2020H1 and delaying rate hikes in 2020H2 — it has not run entirely counter to what domestic output and inflation conditions call for, especially at a time like this when the Lira is significantly under pressure and global financial conditions are tightening,” they said.

“A different TCMB reaction function and the increased importance of expectations in driving asset prices add to the difficulties of forecasting over the next few months.”

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Germany considers a full Covid lockdown and mandatory vaccines

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Senior doctor Thomas Marx puts on his personal protective gear (PPE) before he enters the room of a patient infected with the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in an intensive care unit (ICU) at the hospital in Freising, southern Germany.

LENNART PREISS | AFP | Getty Images

Germany is set to decide on tougher Covid-19 restrictions and could even opt for a full lockdown amid record daily infections and mounting pressure on hospitals.

The country’s health minister, Jens Spahn, has already issued a dire warning to Germans this week, saying that by the end of winter “pretty much everyone in Germany will be vaccinated, recovered or dead.” Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on the heads of Germany’s 16 federal states (which have largely been free to determine their own Covid measures) to decide upon stricter rules by Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Spahn reiterated that request, adding that more public spaces should be restricted to the vaccinated, the recently recovered, or those that have had a negative test — otherwise known as the “3G rule.” From Wednesday, 3G rules apply to any Germans going into the workplace or accessing public transport.

Many states in Germany have already restricted access to public spaces like bars, restaurants, movie theaters and museums under “2G rules,” restricting access to only those who are vaccinated — “geimpft” in German — or recovered, “genesen.” A number of major German Christmas markets which have not been canceled this year have adopted 2G rules.

2G sign is seen during the opening of Christmas market in Cologne, Germany on Nov 22, 2021 as Coronavirus cases are at a high peak in Germany.

NurPhoto | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Last week, the government and federal states agreed to further nationwide restrictions that would come into force based on the hospitalization rate in the respective federal state.

Hospitals and vaccines

Spahn also warned about rising pressure on hospitals in Germany, noting that “we are having to move patients around as intensive care units are full and that doesn’t just affect Covid-19 patients,” he told Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio, according to a Reuters translation.

The warning comes as the number of daily Covid infections hit a new record on Wednesday, with 66,884 new cases (a massive number for Germany and a big jump from the 45,326 new cases reported Tuesday) with the seven-day incidence rate passing 400 for the first time since the pandemic began, according to the Robert Koch Institute. Almost 100,000 people in Germany have died from the virus to date.

German officials are also said to be considering compulsory vaccinations, having already implored those not yet vaccinated to take up a shot. The country has one of the stubbornly lower vaccination rates in western Europe, with 68% of its population fully vaccinated.

Like other European countries, Germany has been desperately trying to boost Covid vaccinations and the deployment of booster shots as winter approaches. But vaccine hesitancy and the spread of the highly infectious delta Covid variant, which is far more virulent than previous strains, make the task far harder.

The idea of compulsory vaccinations has been a controversial idea in Europe but the dramatic Covid landscape has made the debate an increasingly prevalent one, and some officials believe mandating vaccines is the only way to stop the virus.

Covid vaccines greatly reduce the risk of severe infection, hospitalization and death from the virus, but we also know vaccine immunity wanes after around six months and that they are not 100% effective at reducing transmission.

Experts say there are a number of ethical questions to consider regarding vaccine mandates, but some countries have sidelined concerns in favor of the overall benefit that vaccination confers.

Read more: Are Covid vaccine mandates ethical? Here’s what medical experts think

Austria has already announced it will make Covid vaccines compulsory from Feb.1 next year (it has also just introduced a full lockdown) and a number of countries (such as Italy and France) have made Covid vaccines mandatory for frontline health workers. The U.K. will follow suit in spring 2022.

German states have called for mandatory vaccinations for medical workers and health care staff, and the idea is being considered by the federal government, which had previously ruled out compulsory vaccination.

That some lawmakers are now calling for compulsory vaccination shows the current level of concern in Germany at the Covid crisis.

“We’ve reached a point at which we must clearly say that we need de facto compulsory vaccination and a lockdown for the unvaccinated,” Tilman Kuban, head of the youth wing of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, wrote in Die Welt newspaper on Sunday, noting that 90% of coronavirus patients in German intensive care beds are unvaccinated.

The unvaccinated, Kuban said, were bringing Germany “to the brink of desperation” adding that “it cannot be that the entire population is locked away every winter.”

Ongoing political negotiations to form a new coalition government have been going on against the backdrop of Germany’s Covid crisis. However, negotiations between the Social Democratic Party, the Greens and the Free Democratic Party are expected to conclude any time now and a coalition deal is expected to be announced Wednesday.

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Blockbuster art week sets record with more than $2.6 billion in sales

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Art handlers hang Claude Monet’s “Coin du bassin aux nymphas” at Sotheby’s on November 5, 2021 in New York City.

Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

The fall art auctions in New York set an all-time record, as a surge in global wealth, growing inflation fears and the continued collectibles craze boosted demand and prices.

Sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Philips totaled $2.65 billion over the course of the two weeks, smashing the all-time record for fall sales of $2.59 billion in 2014, according to Pi-eX, an art data and analytics firm. Collectors battled over everything from classic Cezannes and Van Goghs to a video sculpture tied to an NFT.

A record 32 works sold for more than $20 million, according to Pi-eX, and 54 works sold for more than $10 million. The total for Christie’s was $1.14 billion, at Sotheby’s $1.34 billion and at Phillips over $170 million.

Crypto wealth was on full display. Crypto “whale” Justin Sun paid $78.4 million for Alberto Giacometti’s “Le Nez” sculpture. A group of crypto investors known as ConstitutionDAO lost out to billionaire Ken Griffin for an original copy of the U.S. Constitution that went for $43.2 million.

“Art market sentiment is sky high at the moment,” said Evan Beard, head of specialty segments at Bank of America, “driven by low interest rates, stock market wealth effect, inflationary monetary policy and new crypto wealth that needs to be parked somewhere.”

The sale of two big collections — the Cox Collection at Christie’s and the Macklowe Collection at Sotheby’s — created a trove of quality art trophies for wealthy bidders.

The sales from the Cox Collection, which was owned by the late Dallas oil tycoon Edwin L. Cox, totaled $332 million. It included Vincent van Gogh’s 1889 masterpiece “Cabanes de bois parmi les oliviers,” which sold for nearly $71.4 million — twice its estimate. Another van Gogh went for six times its estimate. The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles bought Gustave Caillebotte’s “Young Man at His Window” for $53 million.

The Macklowe Collection, a product of the developer Harry Macklowe’s bitter divorce, brought in $676 million. It was led by Mark Rothko’s “No. 7,” which went for $82.5 million. Along with the Giacometti sculpture that was acquired by Sun, it included a Jackson Pollock that went for $61.2 million and a towering Cy Twombly piece that fetched $58.9 million.

Sotheby’s staff take calls for off-site bids, in front of Andy Warhol’s “Sixteen Jackies”, during an auction of The Macklowe Collection, at Sotheby’s on November 15, 2021 in New York City.

Yuki Iwamura | AFP | Getty Images

NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, also made a cameo at the fall sales. An “NFT-powered” sculpture by the digital artist Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple, went for $29 million at Christie’s. The sculpture is a 3D, 7-foot-tall digital lightbox made of four LED screens that shows an astronaut strolling through ever-changing landscapes. The buyer was crypto-focused Swiss venture capitalist Ryan Zurrer, who on Twitter praised Beeple for the “visionary innovation, amazing new energy and hilarious positive vibes that you’ve brought to both crypto and art.”

It became the second highest price ever paid for an NFT after Beeple’s “Everydays: The First 5,000 Days,” which sold at Christie’s earlier this year for $69 million.

The crypto crowd was not as fortunate with its efforts to buy a copy of the Constitution. A group of more than 17,000 crypto investors and enthusiasts, called ConstitutionDAO, raised over $40 million to buy a first edition of the U.S. Constitution. They were outbid by billionaire hedge-funder Ken Griffin, who paid $43.2 million for the piece of history. It will be displayed at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas.

On Twitter, Beeple praised Constitution DAO and said, “I think this is the start of something big.”

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