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The Crossroads of Physical Activity, Sleep and Cognitive Decline

Physical activity and sleep are both important when it comes to reducing the rate of cognitive decline

Bhavin Jankharia
4 min read
The Crossroads of Physical Activity, Sleep and Cognitive Decline
Table of Contents
The Guide * The Atmasvasth Guide to Living Long, Healthy - 15 Aug 2021 Understanding the Steps and Taking Control Taking Control * Atmagyan, Atmasurakshit, Atmanivaaran and Atmanirbar - the four Atmas to be Atmasvasth - 16 May 2021 * The Healthy 7 is also the Happy 7 - 13 Mar 2022 * Prev…


Three weeks ago, in my piece titled “Disease Hell…What Can We Truly Prevent or Control”, I mentioned that there are 5 diseases/illness that we want to prevent at all costs (strokes, heart attacks, cancers, losing one’s mind and falls-related fractures).

This is what I wrote,

Not losing your mind would be the fourth, after brain and heart attacks and cancer. Though you yourself may not be aware that you are sliding into dementia (which perhaps may be a blessing at times) there are no sure shot measures to reduce cognitive loss, short of physical activity, the food we consume and perhaps life-long learning and social connections.

One of the many issues with ageing is cognitive decline, which leads to loss of memory and a reduction in other mental abilities that eventually impact our daily lives and the lives of those around us. To repeat, the best ways to reduce the risk of cognitive decline are physical activity (PA),  sensible eating and good sleep. Education levels, lifelong learning, engaging in habits such as reading that keep our minds active, maintaining relationships with our near and dear ones and staving off social isolation and loneliness also help reduce the rate of cognitive decline.

Poor sleep is associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline. Optimal sleep (6-8 hours) helps reduce the accumulation of Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers, just as increased PA does. Two years ago, I wrote about a study by Huang and colleagues [1] that found that the ill-effects of poor sleep on all-cause mortality and specific-cause mortality (cancer, cardiovascular disease) could be reduced by increasing PA levels to as less as 600 METmins/week, which would amount to a single 60-75 minutes run per week…basically the sweet spot of a daily 30-45 minutes walk counterbalances the ill-effects of poor sleep. As I have kept saying…PA trumps poor sleep.

However, the authors did not address the issue of cognitive decline in their UK biobank cohort, which this new paper [2] headed by Mikaela Bloomberg, based on data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, does. The authors looked at 8958 individuals between the ages of 50-95 at baseline and then followed them up over at least 10 years to see how PA, sleep and cognitive decline play out.