The study, published in the JAMA Network Open, began in the United States in 1996. It was attended by 1,700 women, whose average age was 45 years at the start of the observation period. The participants’ cognitive abilities were tested during routine visits to the doctor by testing in three key areas: the speed of cognitive processing, verbal memory, that is, the ability to recall what was heard, and working memory – the ability to combine various information.
Over 21 years of observation, the rate of cognitive processing of information in women decreased by a total of 8% or 0.4% per year. The dynamics of deterioration in verbal and working memory turned out to be slower: 4% and 3%, respectively. After adjusting the data for various risk factors for cognitive aging, the researchers made a major finding: there is no link between physical activity and cognitive ability.
The authors noted that most of the evidence for the hypothesis that exercise improves cognitive function comes from short-term studies that began at older ages of participants. However, long-term observations, which track the dynamics of memory changes starting from middle age, make it possible to better assess this relationship.
That said, the new study does not answer the question of whether increased physical activity can affect cognitive performance.
“We need more data on how to prevent cognitive aging in middle age, we just don’t know how it works. Still, the health benefits of physical activity are enormous. While we’re trying to figure out if exercise is good for your brain, it’s important to strive to maximize exercise throughout your life, ”said study lead author Professor Gail Greendale.