Regular activity patterns are important for healthy aging and mental health, says study


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A new study led by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh suggests that older adults who consistently get up early and stay active throughout the day are happier and perform better on cognitive tests than those with less regular activity.

The findings, published online by Jama Psychiatry, indicate movement patterns -; Not only the strength of movement -; They are important for healthy aging and mental health.

There’s something about getting up early, staying active throughout the day, and following the same routine every day that seems to protect older adults. What’s interesting about these findings is that movement patterns are under voluntary control, meaning that making intentional changes in daily activity can improve health and well-being. “

Stephen Smagula, PhD, lead author, assistant professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Pitt

To learn more about daily activity patterns in US-based seniors and identify links to mental health and cognition, Smagula and his team recruited 1,800 seniors over the age of 65. Participants wore accelerometers -; Activity tracking devices often found in smartphones and fitness trackers -; They completed questionnaires to measure activity on their hands for seven days, and to assess symptoms of depression and cognitive function.

The analysis showed that 37.6% of the participants got up in the morning, stayed active throughout the day and had regular daily activities.

“Many older adults had a strong pattern. On average, they get up before 7 a.m. and get going; they stay active for about 15 hours each day. They also tend to follow the same pattern throughout the day,” Smagula said. . “Look, those adults were happier, less depressed and had better cognitive function than the other participants.”

Another group, consisting of 32.6% of the participants, had a similar daily activity pattern but were only active for an average of 13.4 hours each day because they got up early in the morning or sat down earlier in the evening. This group had more depressive symptoms and poorer cognition than the early adopters.

“People often think that the intensity of activity is important for health, but what’s more important is the duration of the activity,” Smagula said. “It’s a different way of thinking about movement. You may not need to run or run a marathon, but just be involved in activities throughout the day.”

The remaining 29.8% of participants had disrupted movement patterns in which movement periods were erratic throughout the day and inconsistent across days. These adults had the most depression and performed the worst on cognitive tests.

According to Smagula, the relationship between mental health and activity patterns can go both ways: depression or cognitive impairment can make it difficult to follow a consistent routine, and conversely, a disrupted activity rhythm can exacerbate these symptoms.

“Our findings suggest that disruptions in activity patterns are more common and associated with health problems in older adults. “The relationship may be bidirectional, so the good news is that we think simple changes—things everyone can try—to restore normal activity and doing so can improve health. .”

Now, Smagula and his team are developing an intervention to test their hypothesis that modifying behaviors to develop a more consistent daily routine can increase awareness and improve mental health in older adults.

Smagula says the first step to developing a consistent routine and getting better sleep is waking up at the same time every day -; No matter how tired you are.

“The other thing is to make a realistic plan to stay active throughout the day. This can be very difficult – especially if you’re struggling or recovering from an injury – so it’s important to be reasonable with yourself,” he added. “Planning can include making a list of activities you enjoy and making time to catch up with a friend or neighbor.”

Time cues called “zeitgebers” that help set the body’s internal clock also help create a steady routine. These include sunlight, exercise and diet. Pets that frequently ask for food and are walked at the same time every day can be useful social cues.

“Most people know the importance of good sleep and exercise, but I think what’s missing from this picture is the daily or circadian pattern of activity,” Smagula said. “Having something to wake up to each morning and having a full day that is purposeful and meaningful can be the key to a good night’s sleep and a good old age.”


Journal Reference:

Smagula, SF; inter alia. (2022) The association of 24-hour activity pattern phenotypes with depressive symptoms and cognitive performance in aging. JAMA Psychiatry.


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