A study of older Australians has found a morning bout of
moderate-intensity exercise improves cognitive performance such as
decision-making across the day compared to prolonged sitting
The findings also suggest we may be able to do different types
of exercise to enhance specific cognitive skills such as memory or
An additional section of the "Brain Breaks' study showed that a
morning bout of exercise, combined with brief light-intensity
walking breaks to frequently disrupt sitting throughout an eight
hour day, can boost short-term memory compared to morning exercise
and uninterrupted sitting.
The research, led by the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute and
The University of Western Australia, shows that different patterns
of physical activity can enhance different functions of the brain,
such as short term memory.
The study of more than 65 males and females, aged 55 to 80
years, examined the effects of acute morning exercise on a
treadmill with and without brief three minute walking breaks during
an eight hour day of prolonged sitting.
Researchers assessed aspects of cognition and concentration
including psychomotor function; attention; executive function such
as decision-making; visual learning and working memory.
One important factor in the benefits of exercise on learning and
memory is brain-derived neurotropic growth factor, a protein that
plays an important role in the survival and growth of
information-transmitting neurons in the brain.
The results demonstrated that this protein was elevated for
eight hours after both exercise trials, relative to prolonged
Physical activity researcher, Michael Wheeler, says the study
highlights that uninterrupted sitting should be avoided to maintain
optimal cognition across the day, and that moderate-intensity
exercise such as a brisk walk should be encouraged for the daily
maintenance of brain health.
He says the study also reveals that not all aspects of cognition
respond in the same way to a given dose of exercise and that it may
be possible to schedule the pattern of physical activity across the
day to optimise specific cognitive outcomes.
"With an ageing population that is looking to live healthier for
longer these studies are critical to people enjoying a productive
and satisfying quality of life," Mr Wheeler said.
"This study highlights how relatively simple changes to your
daily routine could have a significant benefit to your cognitive
"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."