There might finally be some good news for couch potatoes. New research points to a correlation between being sedentary and increased vocabulary and cognitive function, in people over 60.
A study by researchers at Colorado State University, published in the peer-reviewed journal Psychology and Aging, found that older adults who sat for long hours showed an increase in vocabulary, comprehension and reasoning skills.
Even though “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,” lead author of the study Aga Burzynska said in a news release.
For the study, 229 participants aged 60 to 80 were asked to wear movement sensors for seven days. Most participants spent less than 2.7% of their time in rigorous activity. All were then tested on 16 cognitive tasks involving patterns, shapes, filling in blanks, etc.
The findings point to an increase in crystallised cognitive ability (CCA), the type that is achieved over time, with practice, accumulated knowledge and experience. Those that spent most of their time sitting showed an increase in CCA.
“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,” Burzynska said in the release. “This study was looking to understand how our behaviors and habits may correlate with cognitive outcomes in older age.”
The participants who engaged in more intense physical activity showed, as expected, “better speed, memory and reasoning abilities”. These functions refer to the brain’s fluid cognitive ability (FCA), or general intelligence.
The researchers, however, warn that these results are not their way of telling you to spend more time sitting. But rather to make sure that you are stimulating the brain in your sedentary time, by reading, writing, connecting with friends and family.
“Maybe sometimes think, ‘Yeah I’m going to go sit now and enjoy a really good book’,” Burzynska said.