Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

The Olive Oil Hunter News #157

A Mediterranean-Spiced Sheet Pan Dinner Recipe, Spotlight on Allspice, and Following a Mediterranean diet to Reduce the Risk of Cognitive Decline

Sheet pan meals are still the rage, and the combinations are limited only by your imagination. My recipe focuses on a rich blend of spices to elevate everyday ingredients like chicken and cauliflower (it also works for a stir-fry and for lamb or pork). It’s a delicious way to follow the Mediterranean diet and get all its benefits, including brain benefits, which a new study has been able to pinpoint. Rather than relying only on study participants’ memories, these researchers found a scientific way to measure how well people stick to the diet and how that, in turn, can protect the brain by delaying cognitive decline. It’s one of the more potent benefits of olive oil and the Mediterranean way of life.

A Mediterranean-Spiced Sheet Pan Dinner

  • A Mediterranean-Spiced Sheet Pan Chicken A Mediterranean-Spiced Sheet Pan Dinner

    A highly spiced mixture gives deep flavor to this dish, which comes together very easily (toasting the seeds before grinding intensifies their flavor). The yogurt sauce delivers the perfect tangy balance.


    For the wet rub:

    • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns 
    • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
    • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds 
    • 12 allspice berries or 1 teaspoon ground allspice
    • 1 teaspoonVietnamese cinnamon 
    • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • 1 teaspoon sea salt
    • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
    • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, plus more for drizzling
    • 2 tablespoons water

    For the pan:

    • 2 pounds boneless and skinless chicken thighs, each cut into four pieces
    • 1 medium head cauliflower, between 2 and 3 pounds, cut into florets
    • 1 large sweet onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges

    For the yogurt sauce:

    • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 garlic clove, grated
    • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
    • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried dill


    Step 1

    Make the wet rub: Heat a small sauté pan and then toast the peppercorns, coriander, and cumin seeds, and allspice berries, if using, until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a spice or coffee bean grinder, pulse to a powder, then place in a small bowl with the rest of the spices and salt; mix well. Add the olive oil, vinegar, and water, and whisk until thoroughly incorporated.  

    Step 2

    Preheat your oven to 425°F. Generously brush olive oil on a rimmed sheet pan. Arrange the chicken, cauliflower, and onions on the pan and brush liberally with the wet rub. Roast for about 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through, turning the chicken and vegetables after 15 minutes. 

    Step 3

    Meanwhile, make the yogurt sauce by whisking all the ingredients together in a small bowl. 

    Step 4

    Serve the chicken and vegetables topped with pan juices as well as generous dollops of the yogurt sauce.

    Yields 4 to 6 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Go All in on Allspice

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Go All in on Allspice

You know it as an essential for spice cakes and gingerbread cookies, but allspice also has a place in many savory spice mixes. It comes from an evergreen native to Jamaica called Pimenta dioica and was introduced to the Old World by Christopher Columbus. Europeans are the ones who dubbed it “allspice” because it’s reminiscent of a number of spices—notably cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and pepper—all rolled into one. So flavorful, it quickly became part of Mediterranean and other European cuisines. 

Most home chefs use ground allspice. But as with many other spices, it’s more potent when you crush your own as needed. In this case, we’re talking about dried unripe allspice berries, which look remarkably similar to black peppercorns, though there’s no botanical connection. The berries are readily available from spice merchants and will retain their flavor far longer than ground allspice. A few berries also add a wonderful aroma to drinks, like hot mulled cider.

For Your Best Health: Following a Mediterranean Diet Reduces the Risk of Cognitive Decline As We Age

For Your Best Health

Following a Mediterranean Diet Reduces the Risk of Cognitive Decline As We Age

Mediterranean Spice Rub with Allspice

The study: “A Mediterranean Diet‐Based Metabolomic Score and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults: A Case–Control Analysis Nested within the Three‐City Cohort Study,”Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, 2023.

While studies often report on the immediate benefits of following a Mediterranean diet, research done by scientists at the University of Barcelona and published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Researchfound that the benefits extend well into old age, lowering the risk of cognitive decline in older people. The specific biomarkers they evaluated also offer insight into the biological mechanisms related to the impact of the diet on cognitive health in later years.

The study, part of the European Joint Programming Initiative, “A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life,” was led by Mireia Urpí-Sardá, adjunct lecturer and member of the Biomarkers and Nutritional & Food Metabolomics research group of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Food Sciences, the Institute for Nutrition and Food Safety (INSA-UB), the Food and Nutrition Torribera Campus of the University of Barcelona, and the CIBER on Frailty and Healthy Ageing (CIBERFES). Carried out over 12 years, it involved 840 people over 65 years of age, 65 percent of whom were women, in the Bordeaux and Dijon regions of France.

As the researchers reiterated in their paper, certain lifestyle factors have been associated with a delay in the age-at-onset of cognitive decline or with a slowing down of disease progression. “A healthy diet is thought to have great preventive potential for cognitive decline, both directly and through its role in reducing other risk factors, like hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Healthy dietary patterns have indeed been associated with a lower risk of dementiaand better cognitive performance. 

“Also, several observational studies have concluded that high adherence to, in particular, the Mediterranean diet is associated with a decreased risk of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and with better episodic memory and global cognition. Two other related dietary patterns also associated with better cognitive performance are the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diets. However, evidence of the associations between dietary patterns and cognitive function is still inconclusive partly due to self-reported dietary assessment.” 

Their aim was to develop a Mediterranean diet-metabolomic score (MDMS) and use a set of dietary biomarkers to provide a more specific assessment of the participants’ diets and better evaluate the association between diet and health outcomes.

Saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, gut microbiota-derived polyphenol metabolites, and other phytochemicals in serum that reflect individual bioavailability were chosen as biomarkers. Some of them not only show consumption of the main food groups of the Mediterranean diet but are also directly linked to the health benefits of the Mediterranean dietary pattern. 

According to Mercè Pallàs, a professor at the UB Neurosciences Institute, “The use of dietary pattern indices based on food-intake biomarkers is a step forward towards the use of more accurate and objective dietary assessment methodologies that take into account important factors such as bioavailability.” 

The metabolome, or set of metabolites, related to food and derived from gut microbiota activity, was studied through a large-scale quantitative analysis from the serum (blood) of the participants without dementia from the beginning of the study. Cognitive impairment was assessed by five neuropsychological tests over 12 years.

The results: Expert Alba Tor-Roca, first author of the study and CIBERFES researcher at the UB, explains that “we found that adherence to Mediterranean diet assessed by a panel of dietary biomarkers is inversely associated with long-term cognitive decline in older people.” These results also suggest that the biomarkers play a role in future research to ultimately help doctors personalize dietary needs of people at older ages.

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Dementia: Olive oil could help protect brain health, according to new study

Adapted from the original research and an article by Robby Berman in Medical News Today, August 2, 2023

Consuming half a tablespoon of olive oil per day could substantially lower your risk of dying from dementia, a new study shows.

According to a presentation on July 24 at the NUTRITION 2023 conference in Boston, the study found that people who consumed half a tablespoon or more of olive oil daily had a 25% reduced risk of dying from dementia compared to people who did not consume olive oil.

What’s more, higher olive oil intake was linked to greater brain benefits. “We found a clear linear dose-response association between higher daily olive oil intake and lower risk of fatal dementia,” said presenter Anne-Julie Tessier, RD (registered dietician), PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

This US-based study is the first to investigate the relationship between diet and dementia-related death. The investigators analyzed the health records from 1990 to 2018 of more than 90,000 people in the US who did not have cardiovascular disease or cancer at the start of the study. During the study’s 28 years of follow-up, 4,749 participants died from dementia.

Replacing even a single teaspoon of margarine or commercial mayonnaise with olive oil was also associated with a 5-12% reduced risk of dying from dementia, according to the research team. These benefits were not seen with other vegetable oils.

The link between higher olive oil intake and lower risk of dying of dementia was observed regardless of the overall quality of people’s diets. This may indicate that components of olive oil provide unique benefits for brain health.

“Some antioxidant compounds in olive oil can cross the blood-brain barrier, potentially having a direct effect on the brain,” said Dr. Tessier. “It is also possible that olive oil has an indirect effect on brain health by benefiting cardiovascular health.” She noted that only a few individuals in the study consumed more than 15 mg (about 1 tablespoon) of olive oil daily.

A body of previous research has established an association between olive oil intake and a lower risk of heart disease, and incorporating olive oil as part of the Mediterranean diet has also been shown to help protect against cognitive decline.

Dr. Tessier reflected on the characteristics of olive oil that may confer its effects on the brain: “Olive oil may play a beneficial role in cognitive health through its rich content in monounsaturated fatty acids, which may promote neurogenesis [growth of brain cells]. It also contains vitamin E and polyphenols that have antioxidant activity.”

The research team advised that an observational study such as this is only able to identify an association and does not prove that olive oil is the cause of the reduced risk of dying from dementia. Randomized, controlled trials are needed to confirm the study’s findings and to help establish the optimal quantity of olive oil to consume in order to experience the most benefits.

Reference: Tessier JA, Yuan C, Cortese M, et al. Olive oil and fatal dementia risk in two large prospective US cohort studies. Poster presented at NUTRITION 2023 conference, Fairfax, VA, July 24, 2023.

The Olive Oil Hunter News #135

Salade Niçoise Recipe, For Your Best Health: Lowering the Risk for Dementia with the Mediterranean Diet

The benefits of extra virgin olive oil as part of the acclaimed Mediterranean diet never cease to amaze me. Food lovers including members of the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club appreciate the depth of flavor of EVOO and would love it even without all the health benefits. But it’s the very presence of powerful polyphenols that both give EVOO its taste and convey its benefits, along with its good-for-you unsaturated fats. To be able to share a new study on how the Mediterranean diet can help stave off dementia is very exciting for me. I know you’ll be fascinated by the findings. I’m also sharing a quintessential Mediterranean recipe—salade Niçoise, straight from Nice on the French Riviera, part of that country’s Mediterranean Sea shoreline. Enjoy!

Salade Niçoise

  • Salade Nicoise Salade Niçoise

    Few dishes symbolize the south of France like salade Niçoise. Although you may not think you like anchovies or capers, they do add to the layers of flavor without being obvious, so try them. You can also build on the basic ingredients to personalize the salad—sliced radishes, red onion, pimentos, and artichoke hearts are just a few of the popular additions. Need a picnic option? Turn this into the classic sandwich of Nice, the pan bagnat, by simply packing all the ingredients into a tranche of a baguette or a crusty whole wheat roll. 


    For the vinaigrette:

    • 1 tablespoons honey
    • 2  tablespoons balsamic vinegar of Modena 
    • 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
    • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper 
    • 1 medium garlic clove, minced
    • 6  tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

    For the salad:

    • 1 tablespoon fine salt
    • 1 pound red potatoes
    • 1 pound haricots verts or string beans, trimmed
    • 4 cups greens, any varieties 
    • 12 ounces freshly grilled tuna or 2 large cans tuna, drained
    • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
    • 4 hard-boiled eggs, halved
    • 1 cup Niçoise or other small black olives, pitted 
    • 8 anchovy fillets, drained
    • 2 tablespoons capers, drained 
    • Fleur de sel or grey coarse sea salt, to taste
    • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


    Step 1

    Make the vinaigrette: in a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the honey, balsamic, mustard, salt, pepper, and garlic. Add the oil and whisk continuously until the dressing is emulsified. Set aside.

    Step 2

    Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the fine salt. Add the potatoes and boil for 15 minutes, then add the beans and boil everything for another 3 minutes. Strain the vegetables and wait until cool enough to handle. If the potatoes are small, cut them in half; if large, into quarters.

    Step 3

    To assemble the salad, choose either one large platter or individual plates. Start with the lettuce, then arrange, in sections, the potatoes, green beans, tuna, tomatoes, eggs, olives, and anchovies, plus any other veggies you choose to add. Sprinkle on the capers and dress everything with the vinaigrette. Finish with the fleur de sel or coarse grey salt and pepper.

    Yields 4 servings

Best Health: The Mediterranean Diet: Reversing Metabolic Syndrome After Heart Disease

For Your Best Health

Lowering the Risk for Dementia with the Mediterranean Diet  

The Study: “Mediterranean diet adherence is associated with lower dementia risk, independent of genetic predisposition: findings from the UK Biobank prospective cohort study,” BMC Medicine, March 2023.

The Findings: According to researchers from Newcastle University in the UK, people who ate a Mediterranean-like diet had up to a 23% lower risk for dementia than those who did not. This research is one of the biggest studies of its kind, as previous studies have typically been limited to small sample sizes and low numbers of dementia cases.

The Report from Newcastle University: Scientists analyzed data from 60,298 people from the UK Biobank, a large cohort including individuals from across the UK, who had completed a dietary assessment. The authors scored them based on how closely their diet matched the key features of a Mediterranean one. The participants were followed for almost a decade, during which time there were 882 cases of dementia.

The authors considered each individual’s genetic risk for dementia by estimating what is known as their polygenic risk—a measure of all the different genes that are related to the risk of dementia. Oliver Shannon, PhD, Lecturer in Human Nutrition and Ageing, Newcastle University, led the study with Professor Emma Stevenson and joint senior author Professor David Llewellyn. The research also involved experts from the universities of Edinburgh, UEA and Exeter and was part of the Medical Research Council-funded NuBrain consortium.

“Dementia impacts the lives of millions of individuals throughout the world, and there are currently limited options for treating this condition. Finding ways to reduce our risk of developing dementia is, therefore, a major priority for researchers and clinicians. Our study suggests that eating a more Mediterranean-like diet could be one strategy to help individuals lower their risk of dementia,” Dr. Shannon says.

The University of Exeter’s Janice Ranson, PhD, joint lead author on the paper, says, “The findings from this large population-based study underscore the long-term brain health benefits of consuming a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. The protective effect of this diet against dementia was evident regardless of a person’s genetic risk, and so this is likely to be a beneficial lifestyle choice for people looking to make healthy dietary choices and reduce their risk of dementia. Future dementia prevention efforts could go beyond generic healthy diet advice and focus on supporting people to increase consumption of specific foods and nutrients that are essential for brain health.”

The authors caution that their analysis is limited to individuals who self-reported their ethnic background as white, British, or Irish, as genetic data was only available based on European ancestry, and that further research is needed in a range of populations to determine the potential benefit. They conclude that, based on their data, a Mediterranean diet that has a high intake of healthy plant-based foods may be an important intervention to incorporate into future strategies to reduce dementia risk.

The Bottom Line: According to the study abstract, “higher adherence to a MedDiet was associated with lower dementia risk, independent of genetic risk, underlining the importance of diet in dementia prevention interventions.”

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #130

Stone Fruit and Berry Buckle Recipe, Spotlight on Blueberries, Flavanols and Memory, Freezing Summer’s Bounty and Walking for Your Brain

With farmers’ markets brimming with all kinds of berries and ripe stone fruit like peaches, plums, and nectarines, there’s no better time to bake a buckle—a one-layer cake named for the dimpled look as the cake rises over chunks of fruit and a tempting crumble topping. This issue of the newsletter also has a boost-your-memory theme, with two important studies—one looks at the cognitive risks of flavanol deficiency and the other, at how walking boosts brain connectivity and thereby memory. 

Stone Fruit and Berry Buckle

  • Stone Fruit and Berry Buckle Recipe Stone Fruit and Berry Buckle

    This recipe is sized to feed a crowd—any leftovers make a terrific breakfast the next day. Choose fruit based on availability—it’s as delicious with just one variety as it is with four or more! Right out of the oven, the buckle is exceptional when topped with olive oil ice cream, a simple frozen treat you can make at home.


    For the crumble topping:

    • 4 ounces unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 

    For the cake:

    • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the baking dish
    • 8 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature 
    • 2 cups sugar 
    • 8 large eggs
    • 3 cups all-purpose flour 
    • 1 teaspoon fine salt
    • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 6 cups assorted berries and stone fruit chunks (skin on) 
    • Optional toppings: fresh blueberries, confectioners’ sugar for dusting, lightly whipped cream, or ice cream


    Step 1

    Preheat your oven to 350°F. Lightly coat a 13-inch by 9-inch baking dish with olive oil; set aside. 

    Step 2

    Make the topping: Use your hands or a pastry blender to turn the butter, sugar, flour, and cinnamon into small bits, ranging from the size of peas to the size of beans. Set aside.

    Step 3

    Make the batter: In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy. With the machine running on low, slowly pour in the olive oil and then add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder. With your mixer on a low speed, gradually add flour mixture to the wet batter until incorporated.

    Step 4

    Transfer the batter to the baking dish and use a large offset spatula to smooth the surface. Arrange the fruit in a fun pattern over the top and then sprinkle on the crumble, being careful to get it into the corners of the dish so that every bite includes it. 

    Step 5

    Bake until the top of the cake is browns lightly and the tip of a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about an hour. Serve while still warm.

    Yields 12 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Bountiful Blueberries

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Bountiful Blueberries

Blueberries are more than delicious—they pack amazing health benefits. Here are four great reasons why, according to Cleveland Clinic dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD.

Blueberries pack an antioxidant wallop. Along with having vitamins C and K and the mineral manganese, they’re rich in anthocyanins, which give the berries their blue-purple color and protect our cells from damaging molecules called free radicals. To get the most antioxidants, enjoy some blueberries raw, and always choose organic when available.  

Blueberries’ soluble fiber helps manage blood cholesterol by sweeping cholesterol-laden bile out of the body, which, in turn, can lower the risk for heart disease. 

Blueberries help decrease blood sugar levels, thanks to the combination of their fiber and a lower amount of natural sugar than other fruits, according to some studies. 

Blueberries may also help with blood pressure, especially in people with metabolic syndrome. Eating them contributes to the body’s production of nitric oxide, which helps relax blood vessels.

Quick Kitchen Nugget: Freezing Fruits and Vegetables

Quick Kitchen Nugget

Freezing Fruits and Vegetables

Want to save some of summer’s bounty for the winter? Freeze pieces individually by spreading them in a single layer on a rimmed sheet pan. When frozen solid, transfer to airtight freezer-safe containers or bags, filling them up to minimize the amount of trapped air and avoid “snow” forming on the pieces. 

For Your Best Health: Flavanols and Memory

For Your Best Health

Flavanols and Memory

A large-scale study led by researchers at Columbia and Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard is the first to establish that a diet deficient in flavanols, a specific type of phytonutrient within the flavonoid group, is linked to age-related memory loss.

The study found that flavanol intake among older adults tracks with scores on tests designed to detect memory loss due to normal aging and that replenishing these bioactive dietary components in mildly flavanol-deficient adults over age 60 improves their performance on these tests.

“The improvement among study participants with low-flavanol diets was substantial and raises the possibility of using flavanol-rich diets or supplements to improve cognitive function in older adults,” says Adam Brickman, PhD, professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and coleader of the study. The finding also supports the emerging idea that the aging brain requires specific nutrients for optimal health, just as a baby’s brain requires specific nutrients for proper development.

The current study builds on over 15 years of research done in the lab of the study’s senior author, Scott Small, MD, the Boris and Rose Katz Professor of Neurology at Vagelos. That work linked The current study builds on over 15 years of research done in the lab of the study’s senior author, Scott Small, MD, the Boris and Rose Katz Professor of Neurology at Vagelos. That work linked age-related memory loss to changes in the dentate gyrus, a specific area in the brain’s hippocampus (a region vital for forming new memories), and showed that flavanols improved function in this part of the brain.

The Columbia team collaborated with researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital studying the effects of flavanols and multivitamins in COSMOS (COcoa Supplements and Multivitamin Outcomes Study). The current study, COSMOS-Web, was designed to test the impact of flavanols in a much larger group and explore the link between flavanol deficiency and cognitive aging in the hippocampus.

How the study was done

More than 3,500 healthy older adults were randomly assigned to receive a daily flavanol supplement or placebo for three years. The active supplement contained 500 mg of flavanols, including 80 mg of epicatechins, an amount that adults are advised to get from food.

At the beginning of the study, all participants completed a survey that assessed the quality of their diet, including foods known to be high in flavanols. Participants then performed a series of web-based activities in their own homes, designed and validated by Dr. Brickman, to assess the types of short-term memory governed by the hippocampus. The tests were repeated after one year, two years, and three years. 

More than a third of the participants also supplied urine samples that allowed researchers to measure a biomarker for dietary flavanol, a test developed by the study’s coauthors at Reading University in the UK, before and during the study. The biomarker gave the researchers a more precise way to determine whether flavanol levels corresponded to performance on the cognitive tests and ensure that participants were sticking to their assigned regimen (compliance was high throughout the study). Flavanol levels varied moderately, though no participants were severely flavanol-deficient.

At the end of the first year of taking the flavanol supplement, participants who reported consuming a poorer diet and had lower baseline levels of flavanols saw their memory scores increase by an average of 10.5% compared to placebo and 16% compared to their memory at baseline. Annual cognitive testing showed that the improvement observed at one year was sustained for at least two more years.

The results strongly suggest that flavanol deficiency is a driver of age-related memory loss, the researchers say, because flavanol consumption correlated with higher memory scores and flavanol supplements improved memory in flavanol-deficient adults.

Next steps

“We cannot yet definitively conclude that low dietary intake of flavanols alone causes poor memory performance, because we did not conduct the opposite experiment: depleting flavanol in people who are not deficient,” Dr. Small says, adding that such an experiment might be considered unethical.

The next step needed to confirm flavanols’ effect on the brain, Dr. Small says, is a clinical trial to restore flavanol levels in adults with severe flavanol deficiency. “Age-related memory decline is thought to occur sooner or later in nearly everyone, though there is a great amount of variability,” he explains. “If some of this variance is partly due to differences in dietary consumption of flavanols, then we would see an even more dramatic improvement in memory in people who replenish dietary flavanols when they’re in their 40s and 50s.”

Flavanols are found in many healthful foods that you can add to your diet for a variety of health benefits: berries, peaches, grapes, onions, scallions, tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli, kale, and tea.

Fitness Flash: The Brain Benefits of Walking

Fitness Flash

The Brain Benefits of Walking

Researchers have long known that moderate exercise has a beneficial impact on the body’s response to inflammation, but what’s been less understood is why. New research done on a mouse model at York University in Toronto, Canada, suggests that the answers may lie within the body’s macrophages, white blood cells responsible for killing off infections, healing injury, and otherwise acting as your internal first responders.

“Much like you train your muscles through exercise, we showed that exercise of moderate intensity ended up training the precursors of those macrophages in the bone marrow,” says Ali Abdul-Sater, PhD, associate professor in the University’s School of Kinesiology and Health Science and York Research Chair. “The way that exercise is doing this is by changing the way those cells breathe—essentially, how they use oxygen to generate energy and then changing the way they access their DNA.”

While many studies have looked at temporary boosts to the immune system immediately after exercise, this study, published in the American Journal of Physiology-Cell Physiology, found these changes occurred even a week later, suggesting that they are long term. 

“Inflammation is amazing—it’s a very important part of our normal immune response,” says Dr. Abdul-Sater. Inflammation is the body’s response to infection and other stressors, and some level of inflammation is necessary and desirable. “What we’re concerned about is excessive inflammation,” he explains. “Heart disease, diabetes, many cancers, and autoimmune diseases all essentially begin because there was an inappropriate inflammatory response.”

The study found that, for active mice, it was around the six-to-eight-week mark into the exercise regimen when changes really became apparent. “There’s a lot of rewiring that’s taking place in the circuitry of how the cells breathe, how the cells metabolize glucose, how the cells then access DNA. So all that just takes time.”

Dr. Abdul-Sater says that because the inflammatory response is a very ancient one, this aspect of the immune system is generally very similar across mammals, and he expects the research will translate well to people. In the next phase, the team will collect immune cells from human volunteers who will do exercises of various intensities to see which workout routines are most beneficial to balance the inflammatory response. 

“The thing with humans is there’s no intervention that will work on everyone. We know that, but what this study suggests is that moderate and persistent exercise not only improves metabolic health, but also will improve immune health in the long run.”

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