Daily activity may improve brain function in middle-aged and older adults, study suggests

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A study done by the University of California San Diego School of Medicine found an association between increased physical activity and improved cognitive performance in middle-aged and older adults.

The study was published in the journal JMIR mHealth and uHealth and led by Zvinka Zlater, PhD, a clinical psychologist at UC San Diego School of Medicine. Zlater and her colleagues studied a total of 90 adults aged 50 to 74 years old with varying comorbidities and baseline cognitions. For 14 days, participants’ physical activity was tracked through an accelerometer. In addition, during the study period, the brain function of subjects was measured through twice daily ecological momentary cognitive tests (EMCTs) on a smartphone. Linear mixed effect models and moderation analysis were used to draw associations between physical activity, baseline cognition, cardiovascular risk, and whether participants functioned dependently or independently.

The study’s results showed a link between better cognitive test scores on days of increased physical activity. Moderation analyses suggested an increase in cognitive function after physical activity for both dependently functioning and independently functioning participants.

This investigation was observational rather than interventional; therefore, the study was limited and no conclusions on whether physical activity directly impacts brain function could be made. However, the study did present EMCTs as a reliable remote measurement of brain function, paving the way for additional research on the subject. This topic is relevant to the integrative community in terms of patient care planning and implementing physical activity into treatments for cognitive function.