A study published on Monday in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found a small reduction in memory and cognitive skills when exercise was skipped in favour of less strenuous activities like sitting or lying down.
John Mitchell, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health in the United Kingdom, said that although the differences are small, they demonstrate how even slight changes in physical activity can have an impact on a person’s health, including brain health.
Data from the 1970 British Cohort Study, an ongoing study that monitors the health of a group of adults born in the UK in 1970, was used by Mitchell and his colleagues. The study’s conclusions were based on information from roughly 4,500 individuals who were tracked from 2016 to 2018.
The participants shared details about their backgrounds, lifestyles, and state of health. Additionally, even while sleeping and taking a bath, they were required to wear an activity tracker for at least 10 hours nonstop each day for up to seven days.
Participants in the study conducted a battery of tests to gauge their capacity for information processing and memory.
The average daily exercise time for participants was 51 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity, followed by six hours of light activity (such as a slow walk) and nine hours of sedentary activity (such as sitting or lying down). Additionally, they slept for, on average, about eight hours.
According to Mitchell, anything that got “the heart going” or made someone “feel warmer” was classified as moderate to severe activity in the study.
When participants chose to forgo exercise in favour of eight minutes of sedentary behaviour, their cognitive scores dropped by 1% to 2%, according to an analysis of the participants’ activity data.
Similar reductions in cognitive function were observed when subjects switched from intensive exercise to six minutes of gentle exercise or seven minutes of sleep.
It was also discovered that exercising, as opposed to sitting, improved cognitive function. Nine minutes of strenuous activity in place of lying down or sitting was associated with a more than 1% improvement in cognition scores, the study revealed.
According to Aviroop Biswas, an assistant professor of epidemiology and associate scientist at the Institute for Work & Health in Toronto, the findings should motivate people to walk more, reported NBC News.
Although the connection between increased exercise and higher brain function is not yet obvious, Biswas suggested that it is most likely due to the way the body’s circulatory system functions.
In contrast, Marc Roig, a physical and occupational therapy professor at McGill University in Montreal who was not involved with the current study, noted that people who don’t exercise enough may experience a variety of health problems, including some that affect the brain, such as dementia.
The greatest workouts for enhancing general health and preventing chronic diseases are still being researched, he added.