(Montreal) The beneficial effects of moderate physical activity on cognition are greater than those of intense physical activity, researchers from the University of Ottawa have found.

This study would also be the first to demonstrate the effects of physical activity on cognitive health using a genetic approach.

Professor Matthieu P. Boisgontier and his colleagues measured that the cognitive benefits of moderate physical activity were 50% greater than those of vigorous physical activity.

“We showed that there was a relationship between moderate intensity and higher intensity physical activity, which was going to explain the level of cognition, the level of cognitive ability to think, and that, whatever the age, said Boisgontier, who is an associate professor of rehabilitation sciences at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Health Sciences and a senior scientist at the Bruyère Research Institute.

“We had a population of 8 to 96, and regardless of gender, whether you’re male or female, it works. »

The researchers used a technique called Mendelian randomization with latent genetic confounders, which analyzes the minute genetic differences that exist between individuals.

These differences, said Professor Boisgontier, may, among other things, explain why some are more likely than others to engage in physical activity, along with factors such as environment, education and socioeconomic status.

The results again underscore that exercise of any intensity has a positive effect on brain health and on factors such as memory, problem solving and concentration, and reaction time, the researchers said. researchers by way of press release.

These results, said the researchers, join those of previous studies which had demonstrated the effect of exercise on the release of a protein, BDNF, which promotes the creation of new neurons, new connections between these neurons and new blood vessels that supply these neurons.

This effect would explain the mechanisms underlying the benefits of physical activity on cognitive functions.

Any physical activity session stimulates production of the BDNF protein in the brain, Boisgontier said, so the data is a reminder that it’s never too late to get physically active and reap the benefits.

“We understand that wherever you start in life, you’re going to have the benefits because even though I’ve been doing (exercise) all my life and you start now, the release of these proteins are going to be the same in you as in me, he explained. So that’s really something, from my perspective, that’s quite strong and shows that regardless of when you start, it has beneficial effects on cognition. »

The results of the study also demonstrated that the beneficial effect of moderate physical activity on cognition is 1.5 times greater than that of intense physical activity, Boisgontier continues, which is consistent with what already found in the scientific literature.

The psychological aspect of physical activity may come into play, he explained: intense activity will necessarily require more effort and may even be more painful, which will reduce the pleasure that some derive from it and may undermine their motivation to repeat the experience.

“We must continue to convey this public health message that physical activity is good for physical health, but also for mental health and for cognition throughout life,” concluded Mr. Boisgontier.

Some 350,000 people took part in this project, which involved international collaboration between Canada; the Swiss universities of Geneva, Lausanne and Fribourg; the American universities of Arizona and Southern California; and Massachusetts General Hospital.

The findings of this study were published by the highly influential scientific journal Nature.