Editor’s Note: Seek advice from a health care provider before starting a workout program.
What if you could look at all the things you do daily — walking from room to room, preparing a presentation at your desk, running up and down stairs to deliver folded laundry or taking a jog around the block — and know which ones will best help or hurt your brain?
A new study attempted to answer that question by strapping activity monitors to the thighs of nearly 4,500 people in the United Kingdom and tracking their 24-hour movements for seven days. Researchers then examined how participants’ behavior affected their short-term memory, problem-solving and processing skills.
Here’s the good news: People who spent “even small amounts of time in more vigorous activities — as little as 6 to 9 minutes — compared to sitting, sleeping or gentle activities had higher cognition scores,” said study author John Mitchell, a Medical Research Council doctoral training student at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health at University College London, in an email.
Moderate physical activity is typically defined as brisk walking or bicycling or running up and down stairs. Vigorous movement, such as aerobic dancing, jogging, running, swimming and biking up a hill, will boost your heart rate and breathing.
The study, published Monday in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, found doing just under 10 minutes of moderate to vigorous exertion each day improved study participants’ working memory but had its biggest impact on executive processes such as planning and organization.
The cognitive improvement was modest, but as additional time was spent doing the more energetic workout the benefits grew, Mitchell said.
“Given we don’t monitor participants’ cognition over many years, this may be simply that those individuals who move more tend to have higher cognition on average,” he said. “However, yes, it could also imply that even minimal changes to our daily lives can have downstream consequences for our cognition.”
Steven Malin, an associate professor in the department of kinesiology and health at Rutgers University in New Jersey, told CNN the study provides new insight in how activity interacts with sedentary…