A new study out of Australia is showing how a bout of exercise in the morning can improve cognitive performance like decision-making across the day compared to prolonged sitting without exercise. “Sedentary behavior is associated with impaired cognition, whereas exercise can acutely improve cognition,” say the authors of the study.
The study titled, ‘Brain Breaks’ led by the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute and The University of Western Australia shows that there are distinct responses in cognitive performance and physical activity.
The study looked at a little more than 65 males and females aged 55 – 80 years. It examined the effects of light morning exercise on a treadmill with and without brief eight-minute walking breaks during an eight hour day of prolonged sitting. They compared the aspects of cognition and concentration including psychomotor function, visual learning, working memory, attention, and executive function, such as decision-making.
The researchers found that the benefits of exercise on memory and learning comes from a brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor, a protein which plays an essential role in the survival and growth of information-transmitting neurons in the brain. The conclusion was that this protein was elevated for eight hours during both exercise conditions, relative to prolonged sitting.
The study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine also showed that it wasn’t just a little morning exercise that was best for cognition. The best results for short-term memory came with the combination of the bout in the morning along with a brief, but frequent light intensity walking breaks throughout the day.
Physical activity researcher Michael Wheeler says “With an aging population which is looking to live healthier for longer, these studies are critical to people enjoying a productive and satisfying quality of life.”
“This study highlights how relatively simple changes to your daily routine could have a significant benefit to your cognitive health. It also reveals that one day we may be able to do specific types of exercise to enhance specific cognitive skills such as memory or learning.”
Manipulation of Exercise
An interesting note on the study is that Wheeler believes that not all aspects of cognition respond in the same way to a given dose of exercise. This means that he thinks it may be possible to manipulate the pattern of exercise throughout the day to optimize specific cognitive outcomes.
The researchers for this study are on a mission to promote these ‘Brain Breaks’ throughout the day as a way to combat the global epidemic of too much sitting. Their ‘Brain Breaks’ are now also being implemented in Australian schools to help refocus and re-energize students throughout the day and help with their decision-making.
This research outlines just how important it is that uninterrupted sitting should be avoided throughout the day. To maintain optimal cognition, moderate-intensity exercise such as a brisk walk is encouraged by doctors for the daily maintenance of brain health.