By Berkeley Lovelace Jr. – NBCNews
Skipping exercise in favor of less demanding activities — such as sitting or lying down — is linked to a slight decline in memory and thinking ability, 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, a researcher at the Institute for Sport, Exercise and Health. from United Kingdom.
Mitchell and his colleagues used data from the 1970 British Cohort Study, an ongoing study tracking the health of a group of people born in the United Kingdom in 1970. The study findings were based on data from nearly 4,500 people. who were followed up between 2016 and 2018.
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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, including while sleeping and bathing.
During the study, the participants underwent a series of tests that assessed their ability to process and remember information.
Participants, on average, did 51 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day; 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 slept, on average, about eight hours.
In the study, moderate to vigorous activity was considered anything that would get “the heart pumping” or make someone “feel hotter,” Mitchell said.
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After analyzing the participants’ activity data, the researchers found that those who skipped exercise in favor of eight minutes of sedentary behavior experienced 1% to 2% declines in their cognitive scores.
The researchers observed similar declines in cognitive performance when people substituted six minutes of light physical activity or seven minutes of sleep for vigorous exercise.
But the opposite was also found: Exercising instead of sitting improved cognitive performance. According to the study, replacing sitting or lying down with nine minutes of intense exercise was associated with an increase of more than 1% in cognitive scores.
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According to Aviroop Biswas, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Associate Scientist at the Toronto Institute for Work and Health, these findings should encourage people to move more.
“Physical activity is linked to a whole host of benefits, so you really want to promote regular physical activity as much as possible,” said Biswas, who was not involved in the research.
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week, plus two days of strength training.
The relationship between more exercise and better brain performance is not yet clear, but it is likely a result of how the body’s cardiovascular system works.
“When you are active, you improve the strength of the heart and its ability to pump blood throughout the body and to one of the most important organs: the brain,” he explains.
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Conversely, when people don’t get enough exercise, they can suffer from a number of health problems, including those that affect the brain, such as dementia, according to Marc Roig, a professor of physical and occupational therapy at McGill University in Montreal, who He was also not involved in the new study.
Exercise intensity is also important, Roig added, noting that people in the study who did light physical activity instead of more vigorous activity also experienced decreased cognitive performance.
Scientists are still trying to determine which exercises are best for improving health and preventing chronic disease.
Mitchell, the study’s author, noted that light activity is still preferable to sitting.
It seems unquestionable that light activity is better than sitting for many facets of health, but the critical ‘threshold’ of intensity for optimal health, including cognitive health, has yet to be decided,” he said.