Just Six Minutes of Exercise Can Improve Cognition in Middle-Aged Adults

Exercise is well known to benefit physical and mental health, but the amount and type of exercise needed to achieve optimal cognitive performance remains unclear. A new study has found that even just six minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity can improve cognitive performance in middle-aged adults.

More than 8,500 individuals born in 1970 in the United Kingdom had their health monitored from childhood to adulthood, and researchers from University College London (UCL) analyzed the data.[0] Participants completed detailed health, background and lifestyle questionnaires and wore activity trackers for a minimum of ten consecutive hours a day for up to seven days.[0]

During this time, they took various cognitive tests for verbal memory (immediate and delayed word recall tasks) and executive function (verbal fluency and processing speed/accuracy).[0] An overall global score for memory and executive function was determined by calculating the scores of each test.[1]

The study found that replacing moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) with six to seven minutes of light intensity activity or sedentary behavior each day was associated with poorer cognitive performance. By substituting vigorous activities with six minutes of light-intensity physical activity or seven minutes of sleep, cognition decreased by one to two percent, which is similar to the result.[2]

Dr John Mitchell, a professor of primary care and population health at UCL who led the study, said: “MVPA is typically the smallest proportion of the day in real terms, and the most difficult intensity to acquire. Perhaps partly for this reason, loss of any MVPA time whatsoever appeared detrimental, even within this relatively active cohort.”[1]

Replacing gentle activities with moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) resulted in a 1.27% increase in cognitive function, and a 1.31% improvement was seen when nine minutes of inactivity were replaced with vigorous activity.

The Department of Health and Human Services suggests that adults partake in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week, as well as two days of muscle-strengthening exercises.[3]

The study also suggests that sleep quality may be more important than sleep duration for cognitive performance.[4] While the study had some limitations, including a lack of knowledge about the health of the participants, the findings illustrate how “the accumulation of movement patterns in a day to a week to a month is just as, if not more important, than just getting outside for a single session of exercise,” according to Mitchell.[4]

0. “Skipping exercise in favor of sitting can worsen brain function, study finds” NBC News, 23 Jan. 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/skipping-exercise-favor-sitting-can-worsen-brain-function-study-finds-rcna66617

1. “Midlife moderate and vigorous physical activity levels associated with brain power” Medical Xpress, 23 Jan. 2023, https://medicalxpress.com/news/2023-01-midlife-moderate-vigorous-physical-brain.html

2. “Just 6 extra minutes of physical activity found to boost brain power in middle age” Daily Mail, 23 Jan. 2023, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-11667305/Just-6-extra-minutes-physical-activity-boost-brain-power-middle-age.html

3. “Study shows moderate exercise is more enjoyable and highly beneficial” FISM TV, 16 Jan. 2023, https://fism.tv/study-shows-moderate-exercise-is-more-enjoyable-and-highly-beneficial/

4. “One type of physical activity protects the brain more than others, study finds” KVOA Tucson News, 23 Jan. 2023, https://www.kvoa.com/townnews/sociology/one-type-of-physical-activity-protects-the-brain-more-than-others-study-finds/article_db6a5f22-0713-5fec-be54-30c96995759f.html