Lifelong exercise holds key to cognitive well-being

March 13, 2013, King's College London
Lifelong exercise holds key to cognitive well-being

A study by researchers at King's College London highlights a link between lifelong exercise and improved brain function in later life.

The study found that regular intensive lifelong exercise as a child and adult improved cognitive functioning at the age of 50 and that even exercise of a lower frequency could offer benefits for cognitive well-being.

Dr Alex Dregan, Lecturer in Translational Epidemiology and Public Health at King's College London, believes the findings support the need for a lifelong approach when seeking to improve cognitive well-being and thinks the results are especially pertinent given recent concerns over the growth of an ageing population in the UK. He said: 'As exercise represents a key component of to prevent , cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, to promote lifelong exercise have the potential to reduce the personal and social burden associated with these conditions in late adult years.'

Published today in the journal Psychological Medicine, the study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London, and is one of the first longitudinal investigations to measure the effects of lifelong exercise on the brain.

Using information from the UK National Child Development Study, researchers examined levels of exercise between the ages of 11 and 50 in more than 9,000 individuals. The data was collected through face-to-face interviews at the ages of 11, 16, 33, 42, 46 and 50, reducing the possibility of inaccurate retrospective accounts of exercise as a child. Participants undertook two measures of , including memory and executive functioning, which were then combined into a third, overall 'cognitive index' score. The involved learning ten unrelated words before immediate and delayed recall was tested. Executive functioning was assessed by asking participants to name as many animals as possible in one minute, which examined verbal fluency, and to cross-through specified letters in a series (letter cancellation), which measured attention, mental speed and visual scanning.

The study found that participants who exercised weekly as a child and as an adult performed better on tests of memory, learning, attention and reasoning at the age of 50 than those who exercised two to three times per month or less.

The preservation of cognitive functioning into later adult years represents a major public health concern, and as such, the government recommends that adults aged 19-64 should exercise for at least 150 minutes per week. Previous research has focused on the achievement of recommended levels and has scarcely explored the benefits of lower levels of exercise. The study carried out by King's indicates that even exercise of a frequency lower than recommended levels may also contribute to better .

Dr Dregan said: 'It's widely acknowledged that a healthy body equals a healthy mind. However, not everyone is willing or able to take part in the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity per week. For these people any level of physical activity may benefit their cognitive well-being in the long-term and this is something that needs to be explored further.

'Setting lower exercise targets at the beginning and gradually increasing their frequency and intensity could be a more effective method for improving levels of exercise within the wider population.'

Researchers found that the greatest benefit emerged from participating in lifelong intensive exercise, even after accounting for exercise frequency. Dr Dregan said: 'It appears that intensive exercise may offer benefits for brain functioning in later life over and above those resulting from regular yet less intense exercise.'

He added: 'Clinical trials are required to further explore the benefits of exercise for cognitive well-being among older adults, whilst examining the effects of with varying levels of frequency and intensity.'

Explore further: Researchers find smoking and high blood pressure may be linked to ageing of the brain

Related Stories

Researchers find smoking and high blood pressure may be linked to ageing of the brain

November 26, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Researchers at King's College London have identified several cardiovascular risk factors, including smoking and high blood pressure, which may be associated with the accelerated decline of memory, learning, ...

Aerobic exercise boosts brain power

December 13, 2012
The physical benefits of regular exercise and remaining physically active, especially as we age, are well documented. However, it appears that it is not only the body which benefits from exercise, but the mind too. The evidence ...

Brief exercise immediately enhances memory, researchers find

November 27, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—A short burst of moderate exercise enhances the consolidation of memories in both healthy older adults and those with mild cognitive impairment, scientists with UC Irvine's Center for the Neurobiology of ...

Study shows that high-intensity training boosts cognitive function

October 29, 2012
A regular exercise routine can make you fitter than ever – mentally fit.

Aerobic exercise may reduce the risk of dementia

September 7, 2011
Any exercise that gets the heart pumping may reduce the risk of dementia and slow the condition's progression once it starts, reported a Mayo Clinic study published this month in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Researchers examined ...

Recommended for you

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Mar 13, 2013
The study found that regular intensive lifelong exercise as a child and adult improved cognitive functioning

That quote with the word "improved" implies a CASUAL link with exercise causing better cognitive function. This article then shows a clear link between cognitive ability and exercise so I do not doubt that there is such a link.
However, in science, a mere 'link' between X and Y does NOT necessarily mean X causes Y! Why cannot Y cause X? Or something Z cause both X and Y?
Their conclusion may or may not just happen to be correct but, judging purely from just the info from this article, their conclusion is flawed because they have not establish that the reason why intelligence and better cognitive function are linked is because exercise CAUSES the better cognitive function. Why cannot it be the other way around because that the reason for the link is because better cognitive function means you may be more likely to choose to exercise!?
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 13, 2013
... Why cannot it be the other way around because that the reason for the link is because better cognitive function means you may be more likely to choose to exercise!?

Maybe because there are many other studies, that hint to the other direction. For example "Brief exercise immediately enhances memory, researchers find" (http://medicalxpr...ry.html)
not rated yet Mar 13, 2013
there are many other studies, that hint to the other direction. For example "Brief exercise immediately enhances memory,

arr yes, but the conclusion from the researchers in this case does not appear to be based on those other studies but merely establishing a link (and not one involving short-term improvement but much more long-term improvement).

Also, knowing that X sometimes DOES cause Y does not in itself exclude the possibility that Y can sometimes cause X and, in this case, I think it plausibly could work the other way around for I can easily imagine that people with greater intelligence might, on average, choose to exercise more because that greater intelligence may make them think more about their own long-term health and to avoid avoidable health risks such as lack of exercise? -well, at least I personally think that's plausible.

Also, wouldn't people that exercise for health also be more likely to eat healthily? -how do we know its not just the better diet?
not rated yet Mar 13, 2013
I just had another thought although this will not apply to the children but only to the adults:
I presume people who are unemployed do less exercise on average because, at least in part, they are usually not doing physical work? and the lower your IQ, the more likely your are to be unemployed because lower IQ reduces your employment opportunities. So could that explain at least part of the link (in the adults only) between exercise and cognitive function?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.