These activities may boost your memory and brain function
And you don’t even have to do them for that long, according to a new study.
As much as I hate to admit it, it seems like those annoying #GymLife people may be right — daily physical activity really does do wonders for your mental, physical, and emotional health. In fact, it’s scientifically proven: A new study found that, when performed daily, even just a little “vigorous” physical activity can improve brain function. Listen, no one is trying to get you to buy a new gym membership. However, research shows that by boosting your heart rate a little each day, you can keep your brain in ass-kicking shape.
The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, examined how brisk, vigorous movement affected the cognitive behavior of nearly 4,500 participants (all born in 1970) who agreed to strap activity monitors to their thighs for at least 10 consecutive hours a day for seven days. The participants had previously provided background information on their health and lifestyle; during the study, they took computerized tests that measured their cognitive function. The findings were clear: Participants who replaced sedentary activities with “vigorous” physical activity showed improvement in short-term memory, problem-solving, and processing skills.
“We identified that individuals in midlife spending even very small amounts and more time performing more vigorous movement, compared to sitting, sleeping, or gentle activities, had higher cognition scores,” John Mitchell, MSci, a doctoral candidate at University College London, told MedPage Today.
While the improvements in cognitive function were modest (only 1% to 2% changes overall), the results were fairly consistent: The more time people spent doing energetic workouts like jogging, swimming, dancing, or biking, the more cognitive function was predicted to improve. It also worked the other way around: Researchers discovered that brain function actually declined when participants replaced vigorous physical activity with sedentary behavior (like lying down or sitting) and even light activity. Basically: When it comes to executive function and memory, vigorous activity is better than light activity, which is better than no activity.
You don’t need to be a gym rat to reap the benefits. “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,” Mitchell said in an email to CNN. So, as tempting as it may be to join a cult-y CrossFit gym, you only really need to spend a little time boosting your heart rate each day to improve your mental state.
While more research is needed to better track things like quality of sleep (versus just time spent in bed) and confirm the overall findings, experts seem pretty confident in the the study’s takeaway about the value of daily exercise, even if it’s just short bursts. Daily physical activity isn’t just linked with improved cognitive function — it’s also shown to improve overall mental wellness by reducing stress and anxiety, improving sleep cycles, and increasing energy and stamina. So whether it be by walking your favorite hiking trail or dancing at the club, getting your heart rate up will do some serious service to your beautiful brain.