Just 6 extra minutes of physical activity found to boost brain power in middle age


Just SIX extra minutes of physical activity each day ‘boosts brain power in middle age’

  • Both moderate and vigorous activity vital to stave off declining brain function
  • Exercise thought to improve memory and mental processes such as planning

Adding just six minutes of intense daily exercise can boost brain power in middle age, a new study suggests.

Both moderate and vigorous physical activity (MVPA) is vital to help stave off declining brain function, researchers said.

Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and boosts oxygen levels, which is thought to improve memory and mental processes such as planning and organisation.

Replacing it with just six to seven minutes of light intensity activity or inactivity each day could lead to poorer cognitive performance, the findings suggest.

Researchers from University College London found that adding just six minutes of intense daily exercise can boost brain power in middle age

Researchers from University College London (UCL) looked at data involving more than 8,500 Brits born in 1970 whose health was tracked throughout childhood and into adulthood.

Each participant filled in detailed health, background and lifestyle questionnaires and wore activity trackers for at least ten consecutive hours per day for up to seven days.

During this time, they took various cognitive tests for verbal memory, including immediate and delayed tasks where they would have to recall certain words.

They were also tested on their executive function, which is their ability to plan, focus, multitask and remember instructions.

Scores for each test were added together to produce an overall global score for memory and executive function.

The activity tracker showed that the participants clocked up an average of 51 minutes of MVPA each day.

It also showed that they took part in five hours 42 minutes of light intensity physical activity, nine hours 16 minutes of stationary behaviour and eight hours 11 minutes of sleep over a 24-hour period.

Those who performed well in cognitive tasks spent more time doing MVPA and less time sleeping and doing stationary activities.

To better understand this link, the researchers reallocated time from one component to another, minute by minute, to estimate what impact this might have on global cognitive performance scores.

By replacing gentle activities with MVPA there was a 1.27 per cent improvement in cognitive function and a 1.31 per cent improvement when nine minutes of being inactive was replaced with vigorous activity.

Replacing seven minutes of sleep with vigorous activity, resulted in a 1.2 per cent improvement, according to the findings published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

On the flip side, replacing eight minutes of vigorous activity with inactive behaviour, resulted in cognition rankings dropping by between one and two per cent.

Similarly, replacing vigorous activities with six minutes of light intensity physical activity or seven minutes of sleep, caused similar falls of one to two per cent in cognition.

Dr John Mitchell, a professor of primary care and population health at UCL who led the study, said: ‘MVPA 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 cohort.’

HOW MUCH EXERCISE YOU NEED 

To stay healthy, adults aged 19 to 64 should try to be active daily and should do:

  • at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or brisk walking every week and
  • strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)

Or:

  • 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week and
  • strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)

Or:

  • a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week – for example, 2 x 30-minute runs plus 30 minutes of brisk walking equates to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and
  • strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)

A good rule is that 1 minute of vigorous activity provides the same health benefits as 2 minutes of moderate activity.

One way to do your recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical activity is to do 30 minutes on 5 days every week.

All adults should also break up long periods of sitting with light activity.

Source: NHS

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