Some sedentary behavior isn’t all bad in older adults, as long as basic physical activity benchmarks are being met, according to a study published in Psychology and Aging.

Health advice commonly suggests that adults of all ages should engage in regular exercise and minimize sitting in order to feel better and reduce the risk of chronic disease, according to the study; however, new research is challenging this assumption. 

The study was composed of 228 healthy individuals between 60 and 80 years of age. Participants were evaluated on physical activity and cognitive performance, according to the study. Investigators used sensors worn on participant’s hips for 7 days to validate physical activity, which is more accurate than consumer-based activity trackers.

The study found that “fluid” abilities, such as speed, memory, reasoning skills, and problem-solving, decline throughout adulthood. However, participants who engaged in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity performed better on fluid tasks than those who did not. 

This suggests that some physical activity may stave off the effects of aging on the brain, according to the study. However, investigators found that light physical activity, such as doing laundry or other household chores, had no impact at the cognitive level. 

Investigators found that for long-term brain health, balance is the answer. This is especially true for older adults who may not be able to move as easily. A combination of physical activity and challenging cognitive tasks, such as reading a book, is the best way to preserve brain health, according to the study. 

"I don't think I would in any way suggest that we should engage in more sitting, but I think trying to be as physically active as possible and making sure that you get stimulated in your sedentary time—that it's not just spent staring at the TV—that this combination might be the best way to take care of your brain," said study author Aga Burzynska, PhD, in a press release. "I hope it sends some positive message for those of us who have had limited opportunities to exercise during the pandemic."

Reference
Is sitting always bad for your mind? A new study suggests maybe not [News Release] October 16, 2020; CO. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-10/csu-isa101620.php. Accessed October 19, 2020.