Lack of physical activity and exercise are known risk factors for major health conditions, including cognitive impairments such as memory and concentration problems. However, evidence as to whether physical activity actually protects against cognitive decline has often been mixed and inconclusive. This study examined the relationship between physical activity during work and leisure separately and later life cognition. Participants were from the EPIC-Norfolk study, aged 40-79 years old at baseline, from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and educational attainment.
The study found:
- Individuals with no qualifications were more likely to have physically active jobs, but less likely to be physically active outside of work.
- A physically inactive job (typically a desk-job) is associated with lower risk of poor cognition, irrespective of the level of education. Those who remained in this type of work throughout the study period were the most likely to be in the top 10% of performers.
- Those in manual work had almost three times increased risk of poor cognition than those with an inactive job
The often used mantra ‘what is good for the heart, is good for the brain’ makes complete sense, but the evidence on what we need to do as individuals can be confusingShabina Hayat
Future studies should explore the relationship of physical activity with cognition in more detail, particularly on inequalities across socio-economic groups and the impact of lower education.
- Hayat, SA et al. Cross-sectional and prospective relationship between occupational and leisure time inactivity and cognitive function in an ageing population. The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition in Norfolk (EPIC-Norfolk) Study. International Journal of Epidemiology; 7 Jul 2020; DOI: 10.17863/CAM.51130
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