Sign up for CNN’s Fitness, But Better newsletter series. Our seven-part guide will help you adopt a healthy routine, supported by experts.
Even if you’ve never been physically active before, you can start moving now and see the benefits.
That’s according to a new study, which found that any physical activity starting at any age is helpful for long-term cognitive health.
Researchers already knew that people who engage in physical activity in their leisure time have a lower risk of dementia and higher cognitive function later in life than those who are inactive, said the study’s author. Dr Sarah-Naomi James, researcher in the MRC Unit for Health and Aging across the Lifespan at University College London.
What the researchers didn’t know was if there was a specific time in life when a person had to become active or if there was a threshold of activity they had to reach to see these benefits, a said James.
The study, published Tuesday in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, tracked the physical activity patterns of nearly 1,500 people over the course of 30 years into adulthood. At age 69, participants were tested on their cognitive status, verbal memory and processing speed, according to the study.
While physical activity throughout life was associated with better cognitive outcomes later in life, being active at all times and to any extent was associated with better cognition, according to the study.
Even people who became active in their 50s or 60s had better cognitive scores when they hit their 70s, James said. A surprisingly small amount of activity – as little as once a month – at any time in adulthood has been helpful, she added.
“It seems clear from this study and others that small doses of lifelong exercise and starting young are very beneficial for long-term health,” said Dr. William Roberts, professor of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School, via email.
Roberts was not involved in the research.
At a societal level, the results show the need for better access to education that promotes skills and motivation for physical activity at all ages, according to the study.
For people who have been active regularly, the results should be encouraging and suggest their investment can pay off, Roberts said.
“For people who have never been physically active, or have been through a period of inactivity, start!” James said via email.
If you’re not exactly an athlete who likes to sweat, there are always ways to fit some activity into your life.
To develop a habit that lasts, it’s important to set a goal, make a specific plan, find a way to make it fun, stay flexible and get social support, says behavior specialist Katy Milkman, author of “How to Change: The Science”. to get from where you are to where you want to be,” in a 2021 interview with CNN. Milkman is the James G. Dinan Professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
You can start slow, said Dana Santas, CNN fitness contributor and mind-body coach for professional athletes.
“Exercising for 10 minutes every day is so much easier than people think. Consider how quickly 10 minutes go by when you mindlessly scroll through social media or watch your favorite TV show,” Santas told CNN in a 2022 interview. “It’s not a big investment, but it may have significant health benefits.”
Yoga is a great way to be active while relieving stress — and is easily accessible at all levels online, she said.
And walking outdoors or on a treadmill is one of the easiest ways to exercise regularly, Santas said.
“Walking is the most underrated, mind-correcting, fat-burning exercise available to humans,” she added. “I walk every day.”
Regular walks can be a great opportunity to multitask if you use them to bond with family, friends and neighbours, Santa added.
If you want to increase the intensity of your walk, Santa recommended adding more challenging intervals, weights, or a heavy backpack.
“Walking five minutes every hour goes a long way,” Evan Matthews, associate professor of exercise science and physical education at Montclair State University in New Jersey, told CNN in 2021. it doesn’t have to be moderate intensity. Just get moving.”