Replacing time on the couch with less than 10 minutes of moderate or intense physical activity can have a positive impact on cognitive function among middle-aged people, according to a new study published on Monday, as research grows on the effect that just a few minutes of physical activity each day can have.
Researchers evaluated the daily physical activity of more than 4,400 people in the U.K. between the ages of 46 and 47 between 2016 and 2018, asking participants to wear a tracker that would monitor their activity levels for up to seven days, followed by tests for memory skills and executive function, including word processing.
Participants’ cognitive skills scores declined by between 1% and 2% when they replaced eight minutes of vigorous physical activity with sedentary behavior, like sitting on the couch, according to the study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
Their scores also declined if participants replaced vigorous activity with similar amounts of light intensity activity or sleep time, with scores dropping about 1.3% when seven minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity was replaced with light intensity activity, and by about 1.2% when replaced by sleep time.
Participants’ cognitive scores improved by 1.3%, on the other hand, if they replaced just nine minutes of sedentary activity with vigorous physical activities.
Over a 24-hour period, participants clocked 51 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity, on average, plus nearly six hours of light physical activity, more than nine hours of sedentary activity and eight-plus hours of sleep.
Researchers have also linked activity levels among kids and elderly people to improved cognitive and behavioral function, as well as improved long-term physical condition. One study published last July in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found an association between lower muscle mass in adults ages 65 to 86 and cognitive decline. Another study in the U.K. found lower handgrip strength was associated with a higher risk of developing dementia. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention—which recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week—higher levels of physical activity can improve problem solving skills and memory, as well as reduce anxiety and depression.
Researchers also found some sedentary behavior can positively affect cognitive stimulation, including reading and working, as opposed to watching television. Participants that replaced light activity or sleep with sedentary behavior scored higher on cognition tests, but only if that sedentary time was at least 37 minutes more than the time they had been spending in light intensity activity.
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