New study strengthens the link between exercise and memory
It’s no secret that regular exercise has many benefits. It protects against developing chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, and in some cases can improve mental health. But what effect does it have on specific functions, like memory?
Studies over the years have suggested that a single workout can improve recall, and that engaging in regular exercise over the course of years or decades not only improves memory, but also helps fortify against future memory problems.
Now, a recent study from Dartmouth focuses on how the intensity of exercise, over a period of time, may play an important role in bolstering different types of recall.
“We know that exercise works, but we don’t know which variables of exercise make the exercise more effective,” said Marc Roig, a physical and occupational therapy professor at McGill University who studies the effect of exercise on cognition and was not involved with the study. “We believe intensity is one of those factors.”
Different exercise intensities appear to affect different types of memory.
One of the major challenges with studying the link between regular exercise and memory is that the changes are hard to measure. This is complicated by the fact that many other factors affect memory, like working a sedentary office job or chronic sleep deprivation.
Furthermore, there are different types of memory — which explains how a person might constantly lose their keys (poor spatial memory) but have a knack for remembering birth dates (strong semantic memory).
Activity trackers can offer one solution to these issues. In the recent paper, published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, researchers were able to look at a year’s worth of Fitbit data from 113 participants, who also completed a series of memory tests, like recalling details from a short story, spatial details, foreign language terms and lists of random words.
The advantage of this method is that it linked a full year of information about participants’ activity patterns — how much exercise they got, how intense, how often — to their performance on memory tests.
Other studies have tracked patterns of activity through self-reported data, which is often less reliable than activity tracker data, as people tend to underestimate how much time they are sedentary and misremember their total activity levels.
“You can get a much more nuanced picture from activity tracker data,” said Jeremy Manning, a professor at Dartmouth College and one of the authors of the study.
Dr. Manning and his colleagues found that active people had better memories overall compared to those who were sedentary, but also found that the types of tests they did well on varied depending how intensely they exercised.
New York Times