Exercising at least once a month at any time in adulthood is linked to better cognitive functioning in later life, a new study led by University College London (UCL) researchers has found.
The study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry looked at data from 1,417 people who filled in surveys about their leisure-time physical activity (sports and exercise) over three decades and took cognitive tests at the age of 69.
The research team found that people who reported being physically active at least one to four times a month in five separate surveys, at the ages of 36, 43, 53, 60-64, and 69, had the biggest cognitive effect. This effect was greater than for those who reported exercising frequently (more than five times a month) during at least one survey period, but who did not necessarily keep this up across multiple surveys.
Lead author Dr Sarah-Naomi James (MRC Unit for Lifelong Health & Aging at UCL) said: “Our study suggests that engaging in any leisure-time physical activity, at any point in adult life, has a positive effect on cognition. This seems to be the case even at light levels of activity, between once to four times a month. What’s more, people who have never been active before, and then start to be active in their 60s, also appear to have better cognitive function than those who were never active.
“The greatest cognitive effect was seen for those who stayed physically active throughout their life. The effect is accumulative, so the longer an individual is active, the more likely they are to have higher later-life cognitive function.”