The best time to work out is whenever you can. But a recent report suggests that morning exercise in particular can offer your brain an all-day boost.
Moderate-intensity exercise improves cognitive performance throughout the day compared with prolonged sitting, according to the 2019 study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Researchers at Australia’s Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute followed 65 overweight or obese men and women ages 55 to 80 who were typically sedentary. A control group continued their usual eight hours of daily uninterrupted sitting, while another group sat for an hour, walked at moderate intensity for 30 minutes on a treadmill, and sat for the remaining six hours of their day.
The walking group showed improved cognitive performance on tests measuring skills, such as executive functions and decision-making, compared with those who just sat.
A third group sat for an hour, walked at moderate intensity for 30 minutes, then walked slowly for three minutes every half-hour during the rest of the day. They displayed improved short-term memory in addition to other cognitive benefits.
Key to exercise’s benefits on cognitive function and memory is brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor (BDNF), a protein that aids the operation and growth of information-transmitting neurons in the brain. BDNF was elevated for eight hours during both exercise conditions relative to prolonged sitting, the researchers state.
(For more on exercise’s brain benefits, see “Made to Move”.)