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Research from the UK indicates that regular physical activity is vital for maintaining a healthy mind and sharp cognition in old age. However, recent findings suggest that insomniacs and night owls may not experience the same cognitive advantages, despite their efforts in exercising.

Sleep and physical activity linked to cognitive function

University College London researchers conducted a study on 8,958 older adults (ages 50 and above) in England to explore the relationship between exercise, sleep, and cognitive function over ten years. They found that insufficient sleep may reduce the protective cognitive benefits of exercise.

The study discovered that individuals who engaged in higher physical activity but had less than 6 hours of sleep on average experienced accelerated cognitive decline. After a decade, their cognitive function resembled that of less physically active peers of the same age.

Lead study author Dr Mikaela Bloomberg said that the study suggests that getting adequate sleep is necessary for individuals to enjoy the complete cognitive benefits of exercise. This demonstrates how it is important to consider physical activity and sleep when thinking of cognitive health.

Past studies on the connection between cognitive function, physical activity, and sleep. Most of these studies have been cross-sectional, providing only a snapshot of the effects. Surprisingly, regular physical activity might not fully compensate for the long-term negative impacts of sleep deprivation on cognitive health.

Adequate sleep and more physical activity boost cognitive function

Researchers found that getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night and engaging in more physical activity were associated with better cognitive function. Initially, higher physical activity levels were linked to stronger cognitive function, regardless of sleep duration. However, over the decade-long study, physically active individuals with less than six hours of sleep experienced faster cognitive decline. This decline was evident in participants aged 50s and 60s, but older adults above 70 still seemed to benefit cognitively from exercise, even with shorter sleep durations.

Co-author professor Andrew Steptoe said that it is crucial to identify factors that are likely to safeguard cognitive function in mid-life and old age since they are important in prolonging cognitively healthy years.