Physical activity at any age has a wide range of health benefits. However, if you don’t get enough sleep in middle age, exercise may not provide enough to offset cognitive decline.
A new study from University College London (UCL) has found that active adults in their 50s and 60s who get less than six hours of sleep per night showed just as much cognitive impairment in learning, attention and memory as adults. who had a more sedentary lifestyle.
The researchers looked at data from the UK’s Longitudinal Study of Aging, which included nearly 9,000 people aged 50 and over. Their cognitive skills were assessed through memory and verbal fluency tests that lasted 10 years.
“Our study suggests that we may need adequate sleep to reap the full cognitive benefits of physical activity,” said lead author Dr Mikaela Bloomberg of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care. “It shows how important it is to consider sleep and physical activity together when thinking about cognitive health.
“Previous studies examining how sleep and physical activity can be combined to influence cognitive function have been mostly cross-sectional – focusing only on a snapshot – and we were surprised that regular physical activity is not always enough to counteract the long-term effects. .of sleep deprivation on cognitive health.”
UCL has previously looked at the effects of sleep deprivation and cognitive decline, and the quality and quantity of sleep has also been linked to a higher risk of dementia. But little is known about how a lack of sleep can undermine exercise when it comes to brain health.
At the start of the study, physical activity was linked to better cognitive function, regardless of hours of sleep. However, as time went on, the shorter sleepers who were still very active performed worse on cognition tests.
However, it’s not all bad news. The ten-year study showed the greatest impact of a poor night’s sleep in people between the ages of 50 and 60. Over the age of 70, the benefits of exercise were clear, keeping the brain healthy, despite this cohort reporting less sleep.
“It is important to identify the factors that may protect cognitive function in middle age and later in life, as they may serve to extend our cognitively healthy years and, for some people, delay a diagnosis of dementia,” says co-author Andrew Steptoe, a professor at UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care.
“The World Health Organization already identifies physical activity as a way to maintain cognitive function, but interventions should also consider sleep habits to maximize long-term benefits to cognitive health.”
The research has been published in the journal The Lancet Healthy Longevity.
Source: University College London
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