Editor’s Note: Seek advice from a health care provider before starting an exercise program.
What if you knew all the things you do every day—walking from room to room, preparing a presentation at your desk, running up and down the stairs to deliver folded laundry, or running around the block—and which ones would help? Or does it hurt your brain?
A new study attempted to answer this question by strapping activity monitors to the laps of nearly 4,500 people in the UK and tracking their 24-hour activity for seven days. Researchers examined how participants’ behavior affected their short-term memory, problem-solving and processing skills.
Here’s the good news: “People who spent as little as 6 to 9 minutes in more vigorous activity—compared to sitting, lying down, or sitting still—had better cognitive outcomes,” said study author John Mitchell, MD, Medical Research. Doctoral Training Studentship in Council at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health at University College London, by email.
Moderate physical activity is typically defined as brisk walking or cycling, or going up and down stairs. Strenuous activities such as aerobic dancing, running, jogging, swimming, and cycling will raise your heart rate and breathing.
The study, Published Monday in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community HealthLess than 10 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day improved participants’ working memory, but had the greatest impact on executive processes such as planning and organization.
The cognitive improvements were modest, but the benefits grew as more time was spent doing more vigorous exercise, Mitchell said.
“Because we don’t track participants’ awareness over many years, this is probably because more active individuals have higher awareness on average,” he said. However, yes, it can indicate that even small changes in our daily life can have a negative effect on our cognition.
Steven Malin, an associate professor in the department of kinesiology and health at Rutgers University in New Jersey, told CNN that the study provides new insight into how movement is linked to sleep and wakefulness.
“Understanding the interaction between sleep and different physical activities is often understudied,” said Malin, who was not involved in the new study.
Although the study had some limitations, including a lack of knowledge about the participants’ health, the findings “suggest that accumulation of activity patterns over a period of one week to one month is just as important, if not more important, than acquisition.” outdoors for a workout,” he said.
There was also bad news: Spending too much time sleeping, sitting, or just doing gentle movement has been linked to negative effects on the brain. The study found that replacing moderate-to-vigorous exercise with eight minutes of exercise, six minutes of light intensity, or seven minutes of sleep reduced cognitive decline by 1% to 2%.
“We’ve shown that in most cases, as little as 7 to 10 minutes of MVPA (moderate to vigorous physical activity) is harmful,” Mitchell said.
That change is only an association, not cause and effect, because of the study’s observational methods, Mitchell stressed.
In addition, the findings of the study focused on sleep cannot be taken at face value. Good quality sleep is critical for the brain to function at peak performance.
“The evidence for the importance of sleep for cognitive performance is strong, but there are two major caveats. First, excessive sleep may be associated with poorer cognitive performance,” Mitchell said.
“Secondly, sleep quality may be more important than duration. Our accelerometers can estimate how long people sleep, but they can’t tell us how much they sleep.”
Further studies should be conducted to confirm these findings and understand the role of each type of activity. However, Mitchell said, the research “shows how even differences in people’s daily activity—less than 10 minutes—are associated with real changes in our cognitive health.”