Consistency may matter more than intensity when it comes to the brain benefits of exercise, a new study finds. Staying physically active throughout adulthood was linked to better brain function later life, including a stronger memory.
Engaging in physical activity at least once a month throughout adulthood made a difference and was correlated with higher cognitive scores at age 69. The more active someone was through their adult years, the higher their cognitive score.
In a longitudinal study published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, researchers recorded over 1,400 participants’ commitment to physical activity five times between ages 36 and 69. They were categorized as either not active, moderately active (exercising one to four times a month), or most active (exercising five or more times a month). According to the study, participants underwent various cognitive tests at age 69, testing for attention and orientation, verbal fluency, memory, language, and visuospatial.
“The effect sizes were similar across all adult ages, and for those who were either moderately or most physically active, 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.
Research has linked exercise with countless health benefits. Routine physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk for depression and can alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety—not to mention it can lower the risk for cognitive impairment disorders like Alzheimer’s. Exercising regularly was also associated with a lower risk for developing COVID-19 and severe illness from the virus. Exercise is also a preventive measure for burnout and can help people feel more productive and present in their workday.
“It’s time to consider exercise as medicine,” Dr. Yasmin Ezzatvar, who has studied how impacts health outcomes, previously told Fortune.
Current guidelines in the U.S. recommend 150 minutes of weekly moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of weekly vigorous-intensity activity—in addition to at least two days of strength training. This specific study does not promote one form of physical activity over another, but encourages movement of any kind during leisure time, especially as people age.
“Being physically active at any time in adulthood, and to any extent, is linked with higher later- life cognitive state, but lifelong maintenance of physical activity was most optimal,” the researchers write.
The best way to stick to a physical activity routine is to do something you enjoy. “It can be done as part of work, sport and leisure or transport,” Ezzatvar previously told Fortune. “But also through dance, play and everyday household tasks, like gardening and cleaning.”
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