Maintaining an active lifestyle throughout childhood and young adulthood could pay off big time for your brain later on in life, according to a new study.
Researchers from King's College London found that people who were regular exercisers throughout their lives did better on mental tests when they were 50, compared with their more sedentary peers.
The findings, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, are based on data from more than 9,000 men and women who were part of the 1958 National Child Development Study. People in the study self-reported their "leisure time physical activity" several times throughout the study period, at ages 11, 16, 33, 42, 46 and 50.
Researchers had the study participants take a cognition test when they were 50. They found that the participants who reported physical activity at least four days a week in five or more of the surveys had better scores on the test, compared with people who didn't report physical activity for four or more days a week.
Participation in low-frequency and low-intensity LTPA [leisure-time physical activity] was positively associated with cognitive functioning in late mid-adult years for men and women," researchers wrote in the study. "The greatest benefit emerged from participating in lifelong intensive LTPA."
Researchers also noted that even people who reported exercising just one time a week had better cognitive scores than those who didn't exercise that much, suggesting that just a little bit of exercise can still do the brain a lot of good.
Past research has shown that even a shorter period of regular exercise can benefit the brain, too. A study presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress last year showed that doing intense interval training twice a week for four months was linked with improved scores on tests of cognitive functioning.
And another study, published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, showed that daily exercise could help to ward off brain atrophy (brain shrinkage) that comes with aging.