The health benefits of exercising are well documented – from improving overall mood to managing weight, reducing the risk of diseases and strengthening bones and muscles.
A new study has further explored the power of exercise on brain health, specifically how different types of exercise affects a person’s memory.
The findings were surprising to experts, who noted how either moderate or intense workouts affected different aspects of memory.
The research further highlighted how different levels of activity impacts different parts of the brain. It turns out the amount of effort you put into exercise may improve either your episodic or your spatial memory.
In a study published earlier this month in Scientific Reports, it was found that the type of exercise you embark on has effects on different aspects of a person’s memory.
Researchers from Dartmouth University in Hanover, New Hampshire, initially believed intense workouts were better for the memory but this turned out to not being the case.
This conclusion was made after data was gathered from 113 participants using a FitBit to further analyse memory tests pertaining to fitness data.
Memory tests included in the research were an assorted list of words, watching a short video and then answering questions about it, studying flashcards stimulating foreign language learning and remembrance of objects placed within a space.
Episodic versus spatial memory
The research team found that those who undertook exercised deemed moderate scored better on episodic memory tests.
Alternatively, those who performed exercises deemed intense performed better on spatial memory.
Episodic memory refers to the conscious recollection of a personal experience that contains information on what has happened and also where and when it happened.
It is one of two types of memories that make up part of your long-term memory.
Spatial memory, on the other hand, is the brain’s ability to store and retrieve information regarding where an object was placed for example.
Another example of spatial memory is the brain’s ability to plan a route to a desired location.
“Mental health and memory are central to nearly everything we do in our everyday lives,” said Dr Jeremy Manning, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth in a statement.
“Our study is trying to build a foundation for understanding how different intensities of physical exercise affect different aspects of mental and cognitive health.”
Anxiety and depression
It was also noted that people suffering from anxiety or depression perform better on spatial and associative memory tasks than others do.
“When it comes to physical activity, memory, and mental health, there’s a really complicated dynamic at play that cannot be summarised in single sentences like ‘walking improves your memory’ or ‘stress hurts your memory,’ Manning added.
“Instead, specific forms of physical activity and specific aspects of mental health seem to affect each aspect of memory differently.”