A new study by researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine shows a link between physical activity and cognitive performance. In the study, 90 middle-aged and older people wore accelerometers while doing physical activities and took mobile cognitive tests from home.
Raeanne Moore, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine and the study’s lead researcher, said, “The future of lifestyle interventions needs to be remote-based.” “This has become very clear because of the pandemic.”
The 50- to 74-year-old people who participated in the study did better on an executive function task when they did more physical activity. Their cognitive performance also decreased when they did a less physical activity.
The results were published in JMIR mHealth and uHealth on January 31, 2022. (Zlatar, Campbell et al. 2022).
Moore said, “It was a very straight line.” “We thought we would find this, but we didn’t know for sure because we weren’t telling people to be more active. They did the same thing they do every day.”
Zvinka Zlatar, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and the study’s first author, added: Future interventions that encourage people to be more active will help us determine if daily increases in physical activity contribute to daily gains in cognition as measured remotely, or if the relationship is inverted.
Physical Activity Correlated with Cognition
Even when co-morbidities like HIV status, age, sex, education level, and race or ethnicity were taken into account, the link between physical activity and cognition stayed the same. But it only worked for people who were dependent, meaning they needed help from others to do things like run a household or pay their bills.
Moore said, “For them, physical activity may have a bigger effect on their everyday cognitive performance.” This is in line with research on Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Even though it wasn’t part of this study, Moore thought that because cognitively stimulating and social activities are suitable for brain health and functionally independent adults probably do more of them, physical activity may affect cognition less.
Moore and Zlatar said that their work could be used to make new digital health interventions to keep the brain healthy as people age.
“We don’t know yet if these small daily changes in cognition add up to a long-term effect,” Zlatar said. “Next, we want to look into this to see if doing physical activity at different intensities over time and in unsupervised settings can lead to long-term improvements in brain health and lasting changes in behavior.