Editor’s note: Seek advice from a health care provider before beginning any exercise program.
What if you could look at all the things you do every day — walk from room to room, prepare a presentation at your desk, run up and down stairs to deliver folded laundry, or jog around the block — and know Which ones will help you best or hurt your brain?
A new study tried to answer that question by strapping activity monitors to the thighs of nearly 4,500 people in the UK and tracking their movements over 24 hours for seven days. The researchers then looked at how the participants’ behavior affected their short-term memory, problem-solving and processing abilities.
Here’s the good news: People who spent “even small amounts of time in more vigorous activities — as little as 6 to 9 minutes — compared to sitting, sleeping, or doing gentle activities had higher cognitive scores. “said study author John Mitchell, a medical researcher. Council student in doctoral training at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health at University College London, in an email.
Moderate physical activity is generally defined as brisk walking or cycling or running up stairs. Vigorous movements, such as aerobic dancing, jogging, running, swimming, and biking up a hill, will boost your heart rate and breathing.
The study, published Monday in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, found that doing just under 10 minutes of moderate to vigorous exertion each day improved study participants’ working memory, but had its greatest impact on executive processes such as planning and organizing.
The cognitive improvement was modest, but as additional time was spent training more vigorously, the benefits increased, Mitchell said.
“Since we don’t monitor participants’ cognition over many years, it may simply be that people who move more tend to have higher cognition on average,” he said. “However, yes, it could also imply that even small changes in our daily lives can have downstream consequences on our cognition.”
Steven Malin, an associate professor in the department of kinesiology and health at Rutgers University in New Jersey, told CNN the study provides new insights into how activity interacts with sedentary behavior as well as sleep. .
“Understanding the interplay of sleep and various physical activities is often not examined,” said Malin, who was not involved in the new study.
Although the study had some limitations, including a lack of knowledge about participants’ health, the results illustrate how “the accumulation of movement patterns over a day, week, or month is just as important, if not more so, than just getting outside for just one exercise session,” he said.
There was also bad news: spending more time sleeping, sitting, or doing only light movements was linked to a negative impact on the brain. The study found that cognition decreased by 1-2% after replacing an equivalent portion of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity with eight minutes of sedentary behavior, six minutes of light intensity, or seven minutes of sleep.
“In most cases, we showed that 7 to 10 minutes less of MVPA (moderate to vigorous physical activity) was detrimental,” Mitchell said.
This change is only an association, not a cause and effect, due to the study’s observational methods, Mitchell pointed out.
Moreover, the results of the sleep study cannot be taken at face value, he said. Good quality sleep is essential for the brain to function at peak performance.
“The evidence for the importance of sleep for cognitive performance is strong,” Mitchell said, “but there are two major caveats. First, excessive sleep may be linked to poorer cognitive performance.
“Second, sleep quality may be even more important than duration. Our accelerometer devices can estimate how long people have slept, but cannot tell us how much they have slept.
Further studies need to be conducted to verify these results and understand the role of each type of activity. However, Mitchell said, the study “highlights how even very modest differences in people’s daily movements — less than 10 minutes — are linked to very real changes in our cognitive health.”