Just six minutes of exercise per day can boost brain power in middle age, study finds

Laura Hampson

Mon, 23 January 2023 at 11:30 pm GMT

Woman in a beanie stretches before doing exercise. (Getty Images)
Doing more moderate to intensive exercise can be beneficial for brain health. (Getty Images)

We all know that exercise is good for you – it has a slew of benefits for both your mental and physical wellbeing – but now scientists have found that as little as six minutes of exercise per day could boost the brain power of those approaching middle age.

Scientists at the University College London studied participants from the 1970 British Cohort Study to make the findings.

The data is made up of people born across England, Scotland and Wales in 1970 whose health was tracked throughout childhood and into adulthood.

Between 2016 and 2018, 8,581 people in the group had reached the ages of 46 to 47 and the research team studied 4,481 of these participants.

They found that both moderate and vigorous physical activity (MVPA) is crucial when it comes to slowing down deteriorating brain conditions.

MVPA can also improve memory and mental processes like planning and organising.

Man running. (Getty Images)
As little as six minutes of moderate and vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per day can be beneficial. (Getty Images)

On the other hand, the researchers warned that doing the same level of light intensity activity could lead to poorer cognitive performance.

“MVPA is typically the smallest proportion of the day in real terms, and the most difficult intensity to acquire,” said the study author Dr John Mitchell, a professor of primary care and population health at University College London.

Some examples of MVPA can include hiking, jogging, brisk walking, shovelling, carrying heavy loads, mowing the lawn and playing badminton.

Of the nearly 4,500 people studied, over half were women, two-thirds were married, 68% were occasional drinkers and half had never smoked.

The researchers of the study, which was published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, asked each participant to fill in a detailed health, background and lifestyle questionnaire.

The subjects were then asked to wear an activity tracker for at least 10 hours per day for a week.

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

A close up shot of a man mowing the lawn.
Even mowing the lawn can count towards your daily activity goal. (Getty Images)

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

On average, the participants clocked up 51 minutes of MVPA per day, they spent five hours and 42 minutes doing light physical activity per day, nine hours and 16 minutes stationary, and eight hours and 11 minutes sleeping.

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

Those who replaced light or stationary activity with MVPA saw a 1.27% improvement in cognitive function, and there was a 1.31% improvement for those who replaced nine minutes of inactivity per day with vigorous activity.

Researchers concluded that the less MVPA in someone’s day-to-day routine, the worse their cognitive abilities.

“This robust method corroborates a critical role for MVPA in supporting cognition, and efforts should be made to bolster this component of daily movement,” Dr Mitchell said.

As it was an observational study, more tests need to be done to find the link between MVPA and cognitive function.

Additional reporting by SWNS.

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