Study suggests regular activity patterns are important for healthy aging and mental health

A new study led by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh shows that older adults who rise consistently early and stay active throughout the day are happier and perform better on cognitive tests than those with irregular activity patterns.

The results have been published online at Gamma Psychiatry, indicates that the activity patterns – ; Not only the intensity of the activity -; Important for healthy aging and mental health.

There is just something about going early, staying active all day, and following the same routine every day that seems to protect seniors. What is exciting about these findings is that activity patterns are under voluntary control, which means that making intentional changes to an individual’s daily routine can improve health and wellness.”

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

To learn more about the daily activity patterns of seniors residing in the United States and to identify links with mental health and cognition, Smagula and his team recruited 1,800 seniors over the age of 65. Motion detectors often found in smartphones and exercise trackers -; On their wrist for seven days to measure activity, they completed questionnaires to assess depressive symptoms and cognitive function.

The analysis showed that 37.6% of participants rose early in the morning, stayed active throughout the day and were following a consistent daily routine.

“Many older adults had strong patterns: they wake up before 7 a.m. on average, keep working, and stay active for 15 hours or so each day. They also tend to follow the same pattern day in and day out,” Smagula said. . . “Well, these same adults were happier, less depressed, and had better cognitive function than the other participants.”

Another group of 32.6% of participants had consistent circadian patterns but were active an average of only 13.4 hours each day because they woke up later in the morning or settled down earlier in the evening. This group had more depressive symptoms and less cognition than early risers.

“People often think that activity intensity is important for health, but the duration of activity may be the most important,” Smagula said. “This is a different way of thinking about activity: You may not need to run or run a marathon but simply stay engaged in activities throughout the day.”

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

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

“Our findings indicate that activity pattern disorder is very common and associated with health problems in the elderly,” Smagula explained. “The relationship is likely to be two-way, so the good news is that we believe simple changes–things that everyone can experience–can restore regular patterns of activity and doing so may improve health.”

Now, Smagula and his team are developing interventions to test their hypothesis that modifying behaviors to develop more consistent daily routines will enhance cognition and improve mental health in older adults.

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

“The other thing is to have a realistic plan to keep you active throughout the day. This can be really difficult – especially if you’re in a slump or recovering from an injury – so it’s important to be reasonable with yourself,” he added. “The plan could include making a list of the activities you enjoy and scheduling time to meet a friend or neighbor.”

Time cues, called “zeitgebers,” which help set the body’s internal clock, can help establish a consistent routine. These include sunlight, exercise, and eating. Pets, which often require meals and walks at the same time each day, can be socially important.

“Most people understand the importance of good sleep and exercise, but I think what’s missing from this picture is your daily or daily activity pattern,” Smagula said. “Having something to wake up to every morning and getting a full day that you find beneficial and rewarding can be important for us to sleep well at night and age well.”


Journal reference:

Smagula, S.F., et al. (2022) Association of 24-hour activity pattern phenotypes with depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning in old age. Gamma Psychiatry.

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