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Breaking up Your Day with Exercise May Improve Cognition

Too much time sitting is known to negatively impact blood pressure and vascular health, which can impair cognition. Researchers enrolled 67 sedentary, healthy, older adults in a study to determine if morning exercise and small exercise breaks throughout the day could improve cognition. In the one-day study, volunteers were divided into three groups: moderate morning exercise only, moderate morning exercise and short (three-minute) breaks in sitting every half hour, and eight hours of  uninterrupted sitting. Researchers monitored the participant’s brain chemistry and performance on cognitive tests. They found a modest improvement in both exercise groups in working memory and decision making. Interestingly, working memory was more significantly improved in the exercise plus frequent breaks group, whereas the decision making was more improved in the group that only had morning exercise. Both exercise groups showed elevated levels of a protein (brain derived neurotrophic growth factor) that is known to improve learning and memory. These results suggest that moderate morning exercise and taking short frequent breaks from sitting may improve cognition throughout the day.
Wheeler MJ et al. Distinct effects of acute exercise and breaks in sitting on working memory and executive function in older adults: a three-arm, randomised cross-over trial to evaluate the effects of exercise with and without breaks in sitting on cognition. Br J Sports Med. 2020;54:776-781. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-100168.