Skipping exercise in favor of sitting may worsen brain function, study finds

Skipping exercise in favor of less strenuous activities — like sitting or lying down — was linked to a slight decline in memory and thinking skills, according to a study published Monday in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The differences, though small, show how even minor changes in physical activity levels can affect a person’s health, including brain health, said study lead author John Mitchell. researcher at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health in the UK.

Mitchell and colleagues used data from the 1970 British Cohort Study – an ongoing study that tracks the health of a group of people born in the UK in 1970. The study results were based on data from nearly 4,500 people who were followed from 2016 to 2018.

Participants provided information about their health, background and lifestyle. They were also asked to wear an activity tracker for at least 10 consecutive hours a day for up to seven days, even when sleeping and bathing.

During the study, participants underwent a series of tests that assessed their ability to process and remember information.

Participants, on average, each day did 51 minutes of moderate or vigorous exercise; about six hours of light activity, such as a slow walk; and about nine hours of sedentary behavior, such as sitting or lying down. They also got, on average, about eight hours of sleep.

Moderate-to-vigorous activity in the study was considered anything that made the heart “work” or make someone “hotter,” Mitchell noted.

After analyzing participants’ activity data, the researchers found that those who skipped exercise in favor of eight minutes of sedentary behavior saw a 1-2% decrease in their cognitive scores.

The researchers found similar declines in cognitive performance when people replaced vigorous exercise with six minutes of light physical activity or seven minutes of sleep.

But the opposite was also believed to be true: exercising instead of sitting improved cognitive performance. Replacing sitting or lying down with nine minutes of vigorous exercise was linked to more than 1% increase in cognitive scores, according to the study.

The results should encourage people to move more, said Aviroop Biswas, assistant professor of epidemiology and research associate at the Institute for Work & Health in Toronto.

“Physical activity is linked to a whole host of benefits, so you really want to promote as much regular physical activity as possible,” said Biswas, who was not involved in the research.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week, in addition to two days of strength training.

The link between more exercise and better brain performance is still unclear, but it’s likely a result of how the body’s cardiovascular system works, Biswas said.

“When you’re active, you’re essentially improving the strength of your heart and improving your heart’s ability to pump blood throughout your body and to one of the most important organs: your brain,” he said. declared.

In contrast, when people don’t exercise enough, it can potentially lead to a number of health problems, including those that affect the brain, such as dementia, said Marc Roig, professor of physiotherapy and occupational therapy. at McGill University in Montreal, who was also not involved in the new study.

Exercise intensity also matters, Roig added, noting that people in the study who engaged in light physical activity instead of more vigorous activity also saw their cognitive performance decline.

Scientists are still trying to figure out which exercises are best for improving people’s overall health and preventing chronic disease, he said.

Mitchell, the study author, noted that light activity is always better than sitting.

“It seems indisputable that light activity is better than sitting for many aspects of health, but the jury is still out on what is the critical ‘threshold’ intensity for optimal health, including cognitive health” , did he declare.

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