Physical activity has numerous benefits, from weight loss and improved cardiovascular health to stress reduction and better mood. But what about brain health? Can certain types of physical activity protect the brain more than others?
A new study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, monitored the physical activity of nearly 4,500 people in the United Kingdom for seven days.
Participants wore activity monitors on their thighs, and researchers analyzed their movements and tracked their cognitive function. The researchers specifically focused on the impact of moderate and vigorous activity on cognitive function, including short-term memory, problem-solving, and processing skills.
The study found that even small amounts of vigorous activity, as little as 6 to 9 minutes, can boost cognitive function. Vigorous activity is defined as activities that boost the heart rate and breathing, such as aerobic dancing, jogging, running, swimming, and biking up a hill.
Those who performed less than 10 minutes of moderate to vigorous exertion daily had improved working memory. But the biggest impact was on executive processes, such as organization and planning. There was modest cognitive improvement however researchers found that the more time spent doing the workouts, the higher the benefits the participants reaped.
Impact of Sedentary Behavior
While vigorous activity had a positive impact on cognitive function, the study found that spending more time sleeping, sitting, or engaged in only mild movement had a negative impact on the brain.
Cognition declined by as much as 2% after replacing physical activity with:
- 8 minutes of sedentary behavior
- 6 minutes of light intensity,
- Or 7 minutes of sleep
The Importance of Sleep Quality
The study also highlighted the importance of sleep quality for cognitive function. While good quality sleep is critical for the brain to operate at peak performance, oversleeping can be linked to poorer cognitive performance.
The researchers used accelerometer devices which could estimate how long people slept but not how well they slept. This finding underscores the need for additional studies to verify these findings and understand the role of each type of activity.
The study’s findings suggest that even small changes with durations of 10 minutes or so can help with cognitive health. While additional studies are needed to verify these findings and understand the role of each type of activity, it’s clear that limiting sedentary behavior and engaging in regular physical activity like working out at Yoga Works is a must.