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Waking up closer to dawn and staying active throughout boosts mood and cognition

Waking up early and staying constantly active throughout the day can improve a person’s cognition and make them happier, a new study finds.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) found that older adults who woke up before 7 a.m. and engaged in consistent, regular exercise every day scored better on cognitive tests and reported lower rates of depression.

Interestingly, the study found that exercise duration was more important for brain health than intensity. Participants who engaged in vigorous exercise for half an hour to an hour each day saw little benefit compared to those who performed light activities, such as walking, during much of their waking hours.

While exercise has long been linked to better cognitive function, the study finds that exercising consistently and following a more regular schedule could be the most important factor when it comes to maintaining cognitive health in old age.

Researchers found that consistent exercise was more important than intense exercise when it comes to keeping the brain healthy in old age

Researchers found that consistent exercise was more important than intense exercise when it comes to keeping the brain healthy in old age

Researchers, who published their findings on Tuesday JAMA Psychiatrycollected data from 1,800 people over the age of 65 for the study.

Each was equipped with an accelerometer, a device that could detect movement and exertion — for seven days to track their daily activity.

Participants also filled out surveys about their daily mood and also had their wake time recorded each morning.

They found that 37 percent of participants got up early in the morning — at 7 a.m. or earlier — and stayed relatively active throughout the day. This group also had consistent daily routines.

This group tested the best on cognitive exams and was also the least likely to report depressive symptoms in the study.

‘Many elderly people had a robust pattern: they get up for an average of 7 hours and keep going; they stay active for about 15 hours each day. They also tend to follow the same pattern day in and day out,” said Dr. Stephen Smagula, an assistant professor of psychiatry at UPMC, said in a statement.

“Look, those same adults were happier, less depressed, and had better cognitive function than other participants.”

A third of the participants had consistent daily routines, but woke up later in the day or went to sleep earlier.

As a result, they did not score as well as the previous group on cognitive tests and reported a slightly increased risk of depression.

This is an interesting finding for researchers, as it shows that more consistent activity throughout the day can be more valuable than intense exercise every day.

‘People often think that activity intensity is important for health, but perhaps the duration of the activity is more important,’ explains Smagula.

“This is a different way of thinking about activity: You may not need to sprint or run a marathon, but just stay engaged in activities all day.”

The worst group was the remaining 30 percent with inconsistent daily patterns and irregular physical activity during the day.

Having a consistent daily schedule of waking up before 7am is crucial for cognitive health in old age, researchers found (file photo)

Having a consistent daily schedule of waking up before 7am is crucial for cognitive health in old age, researchers found (file photo)

Having a consistent daily schedule of waking up before 7am is crucial for cognitive health in old age, researchers found (file photo)

This group was the worst off, scoring poorly on cognitive tests, while being nearly the most likely to report depressive symptoms.

“Our findings suggest that activity pattern disruption is very common and associated with health problems in older adults,” Smagula continued.

“The relationship is probably bidirectional, so the good news is that we think simple changes — things anyone can try — can restore normal activity patterns and improve health.”

He said the most important factor for potentially reversing the effects that a poor routine or inconsistent schedule can have is to develop a daily plan to stay active and engage in fun activities.

“Most people are aware of the importance of getting a good night’s sleep and exercise, but I think what’s missing in this picture is the daily or circadian pattern of activity,” Smagula said.

“Having something to wake up to every morning and having a full day that you find meaningful and rewarding may be important for us to sleep well at night and age well.”