Moderate to vigorous exercise linked to better cognition in mid-life.

Physical activity is an important factor in maintaining good cognitive performance during middle age. Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health has found that moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) is linked to better cognition and brain power in mid-life. This intensity level was associated with better working memory and mental processes. On the other hand, reducing the intensity to lower intensity or sedentary behavior for 6-7 minutes per day was associated with poorer cognitive performance.

The research drew on participants in the 1970 British Cohort Study, which tracked the health of people born across England, Scotland, and Wales in 1970 throughout childhood and adulthood. The participants wore activity trackers for up to 7 days and for at least 10 consecutive hours a day. They also took various cognitive tests for verbal memory and executive function.

Analysis of the activity tracker data showed that participants clocked up an average of 51 minutes of MVPA, 5 hours 42 minutes of light intensity physical activity, 9 hours 16 minutes of sedentary behaviours, and 8 hours 11 minutes of sleep over a 24 hour period. Time spent in MVPA relative to other types of behaviour was positively associated with cognitive performance after adjusting for educational attainment and workplace physical activity.

The researchers also performed isotemporal substitution, which models the effect of reallocating time between components of daily movement on cognition. This revealed increases in scores after MVPA theoretically displaced other activities. For example, individuals’ cognition showed a 1.31% improvement in cognition ranking compared to the sample average improvement after as little as 9 minutes of sedentary activities with more vigorous activities.

On the other hand, participants began theoretically declining in their cognition ranking within the study sample by 1-2% after just 8 minutes of more vigorous activity was replaced by sedentary activities. Similarly, replacing vigorous activities with 6 minutes of light intensity physical activity or 7 minutes of sleep, was linked with similar falls of 1-2% in cognition ranking.

Overall, the research indicates that moderate to vigorous physical activity is beneficial for cognitive performance in mid-life. It is important to replace sedentary behaviors with more vigorous activities, and to preserve MVPA time, or reinforce it in place of other behaviors.

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