One Type of Exercise Helps Brain More than Others

So frequently, we have written about how different exercises help different aspects of health. Walking helps kidney health the most. Morning exercise aids the heart. Afternoon exercise is better for blood sugar. It’s amazing how exercising impacts your body in various ways.

New research has found vigorous exercise aids cognition much more than gentle activity. Researchers tracked behavior patterns using activity monitors strapped to the thighs of almost 4,500 people for 24 hours a day for seven days. They then studied the people’s short-term memory, problem-solving and processing skills.

Study author John Mitchell, a doctoral student at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health at Univ. College London, said that “even small amounts of time in more vigorous activities — as little as six to nine minutes — compared to sitting, sleeping or gentle activities had higher cognition scores.”

Vigorous exercise is anything that gets your heart beating fast and makes you breathe harder. That could be jogging, dancing, swimming or uphill biking. Gentle walks, light yoga or easy bicycling is gentle or moderate exercise. While lighter exercise has health benefits, it doesn’t appear to aid cognition.

The study showed that just under 10 minutes of vigorous daily exercise improved working memory and had the most pronounced impact on planning and organizational abilities. The more people exercised, the more improvement they saw. On the flip side, they found that long periods of being sedentary negatively impacted the brain.

But, the researchers admitted that their study had flaws. Mr. Mitchell said, “Given we don’t monitor participants’ cognition over many years, this may be simply that those individuals who move more tend to have higher cognition on average. However… it could also imply that even minimal changes to our daily lives can have downstream consequences for our cognition.”

Despite the limitations, reviewers point out that the study underscores the importance of regular exercise rather than periodically getting outside. The people who were moving daily were in the best health.  

While the study might be alarming to some, there is reason to find it heartening. Yes, it showed that living a sedentary life is dangerous. But, according to Mr. Mitchell, it “highlights how even very modest differences in people’s daily movement — less than 10 minutes — is linked to quite real changes in our cognitive health.” That means you may be able to improve your brain by putting some faster exercise into your day.

One reviewer, Aviroop Biswas, an assistant professor of epidemiology and an associate scientist at the Institute for Work & Health, said, “Physical activity is linked to a whole host of benefits, and so you really want to promote as much regular physical activity as possible.”

As always, we encourage everyone to get moving as much as possible. Exercise helps your health in a wide array of ways. No matter how you exercise, you will boost your overall health. What’s important is to not stay still. If you can also get your heart pumping fast and your lungs getting a workout, you may boost your cognition!

Banner image: Centre for Ageing Better via Pexels

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