Exercise in the morning sharpens brains of older adults, study finds

PERTH, Australia —  Older adults who regularly partake in moderate-intensity workouts in the morning enjoy the benefits of a sharper brain during the day when it comes to cognitive performance, a recent study shows.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Western Australia’s Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, also showed that bouts of morning exercise combined with several brief, light-intensity walking breaks throughout an eight-hour day boosts short term memory, in comparison to uninterrupted sitting. Researchers found that different patterns of physical activity are able to enhance specific cognitive tasks and aspects.

The study involved 67 adults between 55 and 80 years old. The researchers had participants exercise on a treadmill in the morning, with some getting three-minute walking breaks throughout the day and some not. They assessed different aspects of cognition and concentration, including psychomotor function, attention span, executive function such as decision-making, visual learning, and working memory.

Previous research has shown that a protein called brain-derived neurotropic growth factor plays a significant role in the growth and survival of information-transmitting neurons. The results of the study showed that the protein was elevated for eight hours in both exercise conditions compared to prolonged sitting.

“With an aging population which is looking to live healthier for longer, these studies are critical to people enjoying a productive and satisfying quality of life,” says lead author Michael Wheeler, physical activity researcher at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, in a media release. “This study highlights how relatively simple changes to your daily routine could have a significant benefit to your cognitive health. It also reveals that one day we may be able to do specific types of exercise to enhance specific cognitive skills such as memory or learning.”

The study is published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

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