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The Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health’s (ISEH) and University College London’s (UCL) John Mitchell, MRC Doctoral Training Student, has recently published research with ISEH colleagues, Dr Jo Blodgett and Professor Mark Hamer, Chair in Sport and Exercise Medicine. The research was a group study conducted with fellow researchers at UCL, Dr Barbara Jefferis and Professor Goya Wannamethee and Glasgow Calelonian University's Professor Sebastian Chastin whom, as a collective, looked at how our 24-hour movements were associated with our cognitive functions in midlife.

In this study, the authors assessed closely the associations of different components of daily movement with participants from The 1970 British Cohort Study - they looked at their overall cognition, memory and executive function, to understand the relative importance of each individual component for cognition. The study was conducted as the relative importance of each of the movement behaviours for cognition was unclear, despite many types of movement having previously been explored in isolation. The compositional method used the examination of at all components of the 24-hour day together.

To be able to effectively assess this, the participants wore acceleromers devices at age 46, which helped the authors to classify their day into sleep, gentle physical activity, moderate-vigorous physical activity and sedentary behaviour. Participants also performed tests of memory, processing and task-solving. 

The data pinpointed moderate and vigorous physical activity (MVPA) as the critical movement intensity for cognition scores, as they found that losing small amounts of MVPA from the participant’s typical day appeared to be linked to poorer cognition scores. However, given this study doesn’t follow participants over a long period, the authors cannot draw conclusions about cause and effect. Nonetheless, the findings revealed even very small differences in daily behaviour did seem linked to participant cognition scores. This could be simply be that those individuals with higher cognition scores tend to be those getting their exercise in, or that even modest differences in our day may provide a boost to ‘brain power’ in middle age.

John Mitchell shares: “Evidence has linked many different components of daily movement with cognitive health. Our study looked at the cognitive scores of adults in midlife in relation to their movements across the full 24-hour day. It appears to highlight an important role for our moderate-vigorous intensity activities”. 

John Mitchell recently spoke to CNN about the findings - read the article.

Read the published research, in BMJ Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.