In a study from University College London and elsewhere, scientists found the amount of time spent in moderate and vigorous physical activity every day is linked to midlife brain power.
This intensity level seems to be the best for working memory and mental processes, and replacing it with just 6-7 minutes of light-intensity activity or sedentary behavior every day is linked to poorer cognitive performance.
Previously studies have linked daily moderate and vigorous physical activity to health, but few have included time spent asleep, which makes up the largest component of any 24-hour period.
In the study, the team wanted to know whether moderate and vigorous physical activity might be best for midlife cognitive performance.
They used data from participants in the 1970 British Cohort Study, which included people born across England, Scotland, and Wales in 1970 whose health was tracked throughout childhood and adulthood.
The final analysis included 4,481 participants, just over half of whom (52%) were women.
The team showed that participants clocked up an average of 51 minutes of moderate and vigorous physical activity, 5 hours 42 minutes of light intensity physical activity, 9 hours 16 minutes of sedentary behaviors, and 8 hours 11 minutes of sleep over a 24-hour period.
Time spent in moderate and vigorous physical activity relative to other types of behavior was linked to better cognitive performance.
Sedentary behavior relative to sleep and light physical intensity activity was also linked to better cognitive performance.
This likely reflects greater engagement in cognitively stimulating activities such as reading or working rather than any apparent benefit from watching TV.
The associations were stronger for executive function than they were for memory.
Compared with the average across the sample, participants in the upper half of cognitive performance scores spent more time in moderate and vigorous physical activity and sedentary behaviors and less time sleeping.
The team also found if moderate and vigorous physical activity theoretically displaced other activities, people’ cognition showed an improvement in cognition.
There was a positive trend that became far more substantive with much greater reductions in sedentary activities.
Participants began theoretically declining in their cognition ranking within the study sample by 1-2% after just 8 minutes of more vigorous activity was replaced by sedentary activities.
The team found moderate and vigorous physical activity is typically the smallest proportion of the day in real terms, and the most difficult intensity to acquire.
Perhaps partly for this reason, loss of any MVPA time whatsoever appeared detrimental, even within this relatively active group.
If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and Vitamin B supplements could help reduce dementia risk.
The study was conducted by John J Mitchell et al and published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
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