Morning exercise can improve decision-making across the day in older adults

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 without exercise.

The findings also suggest we may be able to do different types of exercise to enhance specific cognitive skills such as memory or learning.

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 sitting.

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 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.”

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