Even Small Amounts Of Regular Exercise Help Your Brain Function: Study
Working out as little as once a month is linked to better brain function — as long as you do it throughout adulthood.
Couch potatoes everywhere, rejoice! Sure, maintaining an active lifestyle is best for your overall health. But if you’re worried about your brain functioning as you age, you can take some comfort in a new study’s findings that prove you don’t need to be a HIIT monster or gym junkie in order to reap the rewards of exercise. In fact, the study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, found that exercising as little as one to four days per month improves brain function later in life.
But a key part of the study? That you exercise regularly, and for life. It’s crucial that you not only exercise in your 30s and 40s. The study found that participants who were active at least one to four days per month from age 36 all the way up until age 69 had higher cognitive performance, verbal memory, and processing speed at age 69.
“These results suggest that the initiation and maintenance of physical activity across adulthood may be more important than the timing….or the frequency of physical activity at a specific period,” the researchers said in a press release.
For the study, the researchers followed 1,417 British participants beginning at age 36, then checked in with them at ages 43, 53, 60-64, and 69 about their physical activity. They looked at a broad range of physical activity, from sports participation to “vigorous leisure activities and exercise,” sorted participants into three categories: those who were inactive (no workouts per month), moderately active (one to four workouts per month), and most active (five or more workouts per month). They also measured participants’ cognitive performance at each check-in.
The brain benefits of being physically active were similar among the moderately active and most active groups, “suggesting that being physically active at any time in adulthood, even if participating as little as once per month, is linked with higher cognition,” the researchers write. The people who were most active across ages, however, did have the best cognition in late life.
The study was observational, so it can’t prove that being physically active throughout adulthood is the cause of better cognition in late life, but the researchers did control for other factors that could affect brain functioning. Additionally, all participants in the study were white, and those who were socially disadvantaged were most likely to drop out of the study, which makes the results less generalizable.
But in any case, it’s safe to say that getting active is good for your brain. So go for a jog — even if you don’t move around for the rest of the month.