Of all the things we can do to improve our overall wellness, getting, and staying, active is one of the most important. Exercise is linked to many benefits, from decreasing the risk of diabetes, osteoporosis, improving brain health, decreasing the risk of heart disease, and more. While there is an abundance of evidence showing that the body yearns for physical activity and benefits greatly from it, most Americans are still inactive. Understandably, if you aren’t already regularly active, the thought of “physical activity” may bring up images of grueling, intense, long, overwhelming workouts. It’s exhausting even thinking about it. The good news is that there is a wide range of what being “active” means, and a new study highlights that any physical activity, at any time across adulthood improves cognitive function.
The study, published in MedPage Today, followed nearly 1,500 participants from Britain who reported their activity levels over a period of 33 years (specifically, at ages 36, 43, 53, 60-64, and 69). Their activity was categorized:
- not active (no participation in physical activity/month)
- moderately active (participated 1-4 times/month)
- most active (5 or more times/month)
Compared with those who were inactive, those who were physically active with one or more activities per month during one or more time periods had higher cognitive scores at age 69. The largest effect size was between cumulative physical activity and ACE-III scores at age 69, especially for people who were active in all five periods. The ACE-III test is a cognitive screening tool used to diagnose dementia. It measures several factors, including memory, fluency, attention, and visiospatial function.
“These findings have shifted our understanding as we show that the timing of being physically active across 30 years of adulthood and the intensity at certain points were not as important for maintaining good cognitive function later in life,” said study author Sarah-Naomi James, PhD, of University College London.
“Instead, the results indicate that just starting to do a small amount of activity at any time across adulthood and maintaining it was linked to preserved later-life cognitive function,” she said. “Being physically active for as long as possible is the most optimal.”
The authors of the study do explain that further studies need to be conducted to understand the exact types of activity that provide the most benefit as well as how physical activity and better cognition are linked. They hypothesize that it may be attributed to later-life brain health, cardiovascular health, cerebral blood flow, inflammation, and neurotrophic factors (related to nervous tissue growth).
Currently, the recommendations for physical activity are:
- Adults aged 18–65 years should participate in moderate intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes on five days per week, or vigorous intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 20 minutes on three days per week.
- Every adult should perform activities that maintain or increase muscular strength and endurance for a minimum of two days per week.
You can try our weekly exercises, many of which don’t require any, or minimal equipment. It doesn’t have to be all at once; if spacing out the activity through the day is more attainable, go for it- you will still reap the benefits.