Skipping exercise instead of sitting may worsen brain function, study finds

According to a study published Monday in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, quitting exercise for less demanding activities such as sitting or lying down was linked to a slight decline in memory and thinking abilities.

Lead study author John Mitchell, a researcher at the UK’s Institute for Sport, Exercise and Health, said the differences, though small, show how even small changes in physical activity levels can affect a person’s health, including brain health.

Mitchell and colleagues used data from the 1970 British Cohort Study, an ongoing study that followed the health of a group of people born in the United Kingdom in 1970. to 2018

Participants provided information about their health, background, and lifestyle. They were also asked to wear an activity tracker for at least 10 hours a day for up to seven days, even while sleeping and taking a bath.

During the study, participants were subjected to a series of tests that assessed their ability to process and remember information.

On average, participants did 51 minutes of moderate or intense exercise each day; about six hours of light activity, such as slow walking; and about nine hours of sedentary behavior, such as sitting or lying down. They also slept for about eight hours on average.

Mitchell noted that in the study, moderate to vigorous activity was considered anything that “works the heart” or “makes you feel warmer.”

After analyzing the participants’ activity data, the researchers found that those who skipped the exercise in favor of eight minutes of sedentary behavior saw a 1% to 2% decrease in cognition scores.

Researchers saw similar declines in cognitive performance when people replaced vigorous exercise with six minutes of light physical activity or seven minutes of sleep.

But the reverse has also been shown to be true: Exercising instead of sitting improved cognitive performance. According to the study, nine minutes of vigorous exercise instead of sitting or lying down was linked to a more than 1% increase in cognition scores.

Aviroop Biswas, assistant scientist and assistant professor of epidemiology at the Institute for Work and Health in Toronto, said the findings should encourage people to act more.

“Physical activity is linked to many benefits, and so you really want to encourage regular physical activity whenever 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 each week in addition to two days of muscle-strengthening training.

Biswas said the link between more exercise and better brain performance is still unclear, but likely a result of how the body’s cardiovascular system works.

“When you’re active, you’re essentially increasing your heart’s strength and improving your heart’s ability to pump blood throughout your body and one of the most important organs, your brain,” he said.

In contrast, Marc Roig, a professor of physical and occupational therapy at McGill University in Montreal, said in contrast, when people don’t get enough exercise, it can potentially lead to a host of health problems, including those that affect the brain like dementia. was also not included in the new study.

Roig added that the intensity of exercise is also important, noting that in the study, people who did light physical activity rather than more vigorous activity also saw declines in cognitive performance.

Scientists are trying to determine which exercises are best for improving people’s overall health and preventing chronic diseases.

The study’s author, Mitchell, noted that light activity is preferable to sitting still.

“It seems indisputable that light activity is better than sitting for many aspects of health, but the jury is still out on what is a critical ‘threshold’ intensity for optimal health, including cognitive health,” he said.

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This article was originally published on NBCNews.com.

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