Short bursts of activity linked to improved brain health

On Monday, I explained how you can offset the harmful health effects of prolonged sitting by adding just 2.5 hours of exercise weekly to your routine. Well, another recent study took a similar approach and examined the effects of short bursts of exercise on cognitive function during an eight-hour day of prolonged sitting.

So let’s jump right in…

Boost brain activity with frequent exercise breaks

This interesting study comes from Australia and involved more than 65 sedentary and overweight/obese males and females aged 55 to 80 years. Researchers put the participants through three different daily routines, with a six-day washout period between each:

1.) 8 hours of straight uninterrupted sitting

2.) 1 hour of uninterrupted sitting, followed by moderate-intensity walking for 30 minutes, then uninterrupted sitting for 6.5 hours

3.) 1 hour of uninterrupted sitting, followed by moderate-intensity walking for 30 minutes, then 6.5 hours of sitting that was interrupted every 30 minutes with 3 minutes of light-intensity walking

The participants also took cognitive tests at four points during the study—once at the outset and again after completing each of the three daily regimens. These tests assessed different aspects of cognitive function and concentration, including:

  • Attention
  • Decision-making
  • Executive function
  • Psychomotor function
  • Visual learning
  • Working memory

It turns out, getting 30 minutes of morning exercise improved cognitive performance and decision-making throughout the day when compared to prolonged sitting without exercise. Plus, getting 30 minutes of morning exercise combined with 3-minute walks throughout the rest of the day boosted short-term memory.

Researchers also found that these exercise routines boost a protein in the brain called brain neurotropic growth factor. This protein plays an important role in the growth and survival of neurons in the brain, which are responsible for transmitting information. And it remained elevated for eight hours after both types of exercise regimens.

Easy ways to improve your daily routine

 The way I see it, there are two main takeaways here…

  • Avoid long periods of prolonged, uninterrupted sitting—to protect your body and mind! (Remember, science shows people who transition from being inactive to moderately active gain the biggest health boost of all!)
  • Simple, moderate exercise is all you need—you don’t need to become a marathon runner to reap health benefits. That kind of excessive exercise—or what I call “excess-ercise”—can actually cause serious short- and long-term harm.

Instead, aim to get just 2.5 hours of moderate exercise total during the week—and commit to getting up periodically throughout the day. Incorporating this level of activity is easier than you think. In fact, I noticed that this amount and pattern of exercise matches my daily dog-walking routine…

I get up and out first thing in the morning for a short, brisk morning walk. Then, several times throughout the day, I take the dog outside again for short walks, patrolling up and down in front of the property. Plus, this routine gets me outside in Nature, which has benefits all its own!

P.S. In addition to sensible exercise, there are numerous simple, common-sense strategies for staying vibrant, youthful, and healthy as you age. In fact, my Insider’s Ultimate Guide to Outsmarting “Old Age” provides a step-by-step approach that you can follow from the comfort of your own home. To learn more, or to enroll in this innovative online learning tool, click here now!


“Distinct effects of acute exercise and breaks in sitting on working memory and executive function in older adults: a three-arm, randomised cross-over trial to evaluate the effects of exercise with and without breaks in sitting on cognition.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2019: