News & Insights 30 September 2020

Physical Activity can help improve brain function

It’s not uncommon for adults to spend the majority of their day undertaking sedentary activities, be that working at a desk, sitting through lectures, or watching tv, with breaks being few and far between. Whilst many are aware of the negative effect this can have on their physical health, very few recognise the similarly detrimental impact it can have on their cognitive function.

A recent systematic review published in Translational Sports Medicine emphasised how a multitude of cognitive benefits can be readily obtained, simply through undertaking regular physical activity breaks. The researchers evaluated the effects of a single exercise bout on the learning and memory function in young adults, aged 18 to 35, incorporating the results of 13 studies from across the medical literature. Activities ranged from 2 minutes to an hour in duration and encompassed both light, moderate and vigorous intensities. The effects were clear: physical activity breaks are beneficial to cognitive function.

“Several cognitive functions associated with learning were improved after an exercise stimulus in the selected studies such as attention, concentration, working memory, short-term memory, long-term memory, verbal fluency, and capability to plan and solve problems,”the authors of the study confirmed. These findings were particularly prominent when activity was undertaken just prior to encoding –the immediate processing of information. A recovery period of around 5 minutes between physical activity and resuming work or study appeared to maximise the improvements in learning ability and long-term memory storage.

A further study conducted at Tsukuba University in Japan highlighted that these results can be similarly extrapolated to youth populations, whereby regular physical activity can help to develop children’s cognitive ability. Executive function, the ability to process multiple pieces of information at once, was assessed before and after physical activity was incorporated into the children’s daily schedule. Whilst the results showed that the entire cohort experienced the positive benefits of activity, those who had the poorest cognitive skillset initially experienced the greatest benefit overall.

Although any intensity of physical activity can have profound effects on both your physical and cognitive health, consensus across the studies suggested that moderate to vigorous intensity activity yields the greatest cognitive benefits. However, it is important to note that undertaking vigorous intensity exercise is not essential to elicit these beneficial outcomes. We know that incorporating activities such as running, cycling or a gym workout into the average working day is likely to be unrealistic for most people, whereas taking frequent, active breaks is achievable and can still have a valuable effect on your cognitive performance.

At KiActiv® we understand the importance of finding value in your everyday activity, and that keeping active throughout the day can have a positive impact on your brain as well as your body. Physical activity is multi-dimensional, providing numerous opportunities throughout the day to harness all of its favourable properties. The key is to find out what works for you!

The KiActiv® Team