Physical activity contributes to a healthy ageing brain in poor sleepers

Poor sleep negatively impacts memory in older adults, but a physically active lifestyle may help alleviate some of these consequences.

Researchers from Murdoch University’s Centre for Healthy Ageing investigated two important lifestyle factors – sleep and physical activity – and their impact on brain health as we age.

They found that physical activity may compensate for some of the negative effects of poor sleep on memory and thinking skills.

Murdoch University PhD candidate Kelsey Sewell, who led the study with senior authors Associate Professor Stephanie Rainey-Smith and Associate Professor Belinda Brown, assessed participants for memory and thinking skills, and the presence of a toxic brain protein called beta-amyloid, which is an early marker of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our aim was to consider the combined effect of sleep and physical activity because we know they are closely related,” says Ms Sewell.

“Our results show that in people who are less physically active, poorer sleep was associated with worse memory and thinking skills.

“However, in those with higher physical activity, sleep did not have a significant impact on their memory and thinking.”

The study also found that sleep and physical activity may work together to influence levels of brain beta-amyloid, however, further research would be required to fully understand these associations.

Ms Sewell says that the results may be encouraging for older adults struggling to get a good night’s sleep.

“Overall, our results illustrate that physical activity may compensate for some of the negative effects poor sleep has on memory and thinking skills in older adults,” she says.

“However, because of the novelty of this research, further studies are needed to confirm this finding.”

Click here to read the study.

Text by: Murdoch University. 

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