Morning exercise keeps the brain sharp all day

Older Australians who sneak exercise into the day with a regular morning workout significantly improve decision-making for the next eight hours of the day.

New research, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, shows daily bouts of moderate-intensity morning exercise can mitigate many of the risks associated with sitting too much.

ACU researchers Michael Wheeler, David Dunstan and Ester Cerin, from the Mary Mackillop Institute for Health Research, found the key to good brain health can be achieved with simple changes to daily routine.

The Brain Breaks study showed short-term memory improved when morning exercise was combined with brief light-intensity walking breaks to disrupt sitting during day, compared to prolonged sitting.

A morning exercise session also improved decision-making during an afternoon that involved prolonged sitting.

Lead researcher Michael Wheeler said uninterrupted sitting should be avoided and moderate intensity exercise encouraged to maintain optimal cognition right across the day.

“Moderate-intensity exercise such as a brisk walk should be encouraged for the daily maintenance of brain health,” he said.

“This study highlights how relatively simple changes to your daily routine can 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 decision making or short-term memory.”

Sixty-seven men and women, aged between 55 and 80, took part in the study which looked at the effects of acute morning exercise on a treadmill with and without three-minute walking breaks during an eight-hour day of prolonged sitting.

Researchers then assessed aspects of cognition and concentration including psychomotor function; attention; executive function such as decision-making; visual learning and working memory.

Not all aspects of cognition respond in the same way to a given dose of exercise. However, Mr Wheeler said it may be possible to manipulate the pattern of activity across the day to improve specific cognitive function.

“With an ageing population which is looking to live healthier for longer, these studies are critical to people enjoying a productive and satisfying quality of life,” he said.

The study was led by the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute and the University of Western Australia.

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