Finding a balance between sitting and being physically active is key for consumers' cognitive function

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Researchers say it’s important for older consumers to keep their brains active

Sitting for long periods of time has been found to negatively affect consumers’ mental and physical well-being, and now a new study is exploring how spending meaningful time sitting down could actually benefit older consumers’ cognitive function. 

According to a new study conducted by researchers from Colorado State University, physical activity is important for older consumers’ overall wellness. However, periods of sitting aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Their study suggests that keeping the mind active, even while sitting down, can lead to strong cognitive abilities. 

“We know that as we grow older, even if we do not have any cognitive impairments, people aged 60 and up already show some decreases in speed, executive functioning, and memory,” said researcher Aga Burzynska. “Those decreases are totally within a normal range, but this study was looking to understand how our behaviors and habits may correlate with cognitive outcomes in older age.” 

Staying mentally sharp

The researchers had 228 participants between the ages of 60 and 80 participate in the study. For seven days, participants wore hip sensors that measured their physical activity and sedentariness, after which they completed cognitive assessments that evaluated 16 different skills, including memory, vocabulary knowledge, and reasoning, among several others.

Ultimately, the researchers learned that the participants were spending on average less than three percent of their time engaging in even moderate levels of physical activity. However, this wasn’t linked with poorer outcomes on the cognitive assessments. 

The study revealed that those who were more active had sharpened different skills than those who were more sedentary. Scores on general knowledge and vocabulary were higher for those who spent more time sitting, whereas skills like problem solving and reasoning were higher for those who regularly exercised. 

“There’s this big push within health and wellness that sitting is always bad for your body, that being a couch potato is not good,” said Burzynska. “And although our earlier studies indicated that the brains of those who spend more time sitting may age faster, it seems that on the cognitive level, sitting time may also be meaningful.” 

While the researchers aren’t encouraging consumers to spend more time on the couch, they do hope that these findings inspire older consumers to make the most of their sedentary time. Exercise is important, but engaging in activities while sitting down can help boost cognitive function into older age. 

“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 Burzynska. “I hope it sends some positive message for those of us who have limited opportunities to exercise during the pandemic.” 

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