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More intensive activity is not always better for a person’s memory

Intense training is not always better! More rigorous exercisers have a harder time remembering specific events than those who do more moderate exercise, the study found

  • People who exercise more intensively may not always score better on memory tests, despite existing medical literature, a new study shows
  • One study found that those who participate in more rigorous exercise have better spatial memory but poorer episodic memory than those who exercise lightly.
  • However, any form of exercise is found to be better for a person’s brain than living a sedentary lifestyle
  • People who reported suffering from depression or anxiety also scored better on some memory tests than others in the population
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More intensive exercise is not always better for a person’s memory than moderate exercise, a new study shows.

Researchers from Dartmouth University in Hanover, New Hampshire, found that people who did moderate regular activity often had better ‘episodic’ memory than their more rigorously exercising peers. This means that they remember specific events better.

However, performing more intense exercise regularly increases a person’s spatial memory, enabling them to remember places better. This would, for example, make them more likely to remember where they parked their car.

The results were surprising to experts, who noted that more intensive exercise is generally thought to correlate with stronger memory and overall brain function. This study highlights that different levels of activity can affect different parts of the brain – and have different impacts as a result.

Researchers found that intensive exercise may be better for a person's spatial memory, but more moderate activity helped a person's episodic memory (file photo)
Researchers found that intensive exercise may be better for a person's spatial memory, but more moderate activity helped a person's episodic memory (file photo)

Researchers found that intensive exercise may be better for a person’s spatial memory, but more moderate activity helped a person’s episodic memory (file photo)

The four memory tests included memorizing an assorted list of words, watching a short video and answering a short quiz afterwards, studying flashcards that simulated foreign language learning, and remembering where small objects were placed in a room.
The four memory tests included memorizing an assorted list of words, watching a short video and answering a short quiz afterwards, studying flashcards that simulated foreign language learning, and remembering where small objects were placed in a room.

The four memory tests included memorizing an assorted list of words, watching a short video and answering a short quiz afterwards, studying flashcards that simulated foreign language learning, and remembering where small objects were placed in a room.

“Mental health and memory are central to almost everything we do in our everyday lives,” said Dr. Jeremy Manning, an assistant professor of psychology and brain science at Dartmouth, said in a statement.

“Our study attempts to build a foundation for understanding how different intensities of physical exercise affect different aspects of mental and cognitive health.”

Researchers, who published their findings last week in Scientific Reports, collected data from 113 FitBit users for the study.

Waking up closer to dawn and staying active throughout the day boosts mood and cognition, study shows

Waking up early and staying consistently active throughout the day can improve a person’s cognition and make them happier, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) found that older adults who woke up before 7 and got consistent, regular, physical activity every day, scored better on cognitive tests and reported lower depression scores.

Interestingly, the study found that the duration of exercise mattered more to brain health than the intensity. Participants who underwent vigorous exercise for half an hour to an hour each day saw little benefit compared to those who performed light activity such as walking for a large proportion of their waking hours.

While exercise has long been linked to better cognitive function, the study finds that consistent exercise and living on a more regular schedule may be the most important factor of all when it comes to maintaining cognitive health in old age.

‘Many older adults had robust patterns: They get up before 7 on average and they continue; they remain active for 15 hours or so each day. They also tend to follow the same pattern day in, day out,” Dr. Stephen Smagula, an assistant professor of psychiatry at UPMC, said in a statement.

“See, the same adults were happier, less depressed and had better cognitive function than other participants.”

Each shared their fitness data — as tracked by the device — from the past year with researchers, performed memory tests and answered surveys about their mental health.

The four memory tests included memorizing an assorted list of words, watching a short video and answering a short quiz afterwards, studying flashcards that simulated foreign language learning, and remembering where small objects were placed in a room.

Judging by previous research, the Dartmouth team expected the more intensive training group to perform better in all types of memory than their peers, but this was not the case.

People whose primary exercise over the past year was described as ‘moderate’ performed better than their peers who engaged in more excessive exercise on episodic memory tests.

Researchers describe episodic memory as the ability to remember autobiographical events, such as explaining what a person did the day before.

Those who participated in more intensive training performed better on spatial memory, which is a person’s ability to remember the location of things.

There was no significant difference found in scores on associative memory tests.

However, any exercise is better than no exercise, with active participants testing better on overall memory than their more sedentary counterparts.

Researchers also found 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 are really complicated dynamics at play that can’t be summed up in single phrases like ‘walking improves your memory’ or ‘stress damages your memory,'” Manning explained.

‘Instead, specific forms of physical activity and specific aspects of mental health appear to affect each aspect of memory differently.’

This isn’t the only recent study to find potential benefits of moderate exercise over more intensive exercise when it comes to cognitive health.

A study published last week by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center found that moderate exercise throughout the day was more valuable than short bursts of intense physical activity for older people who want to keep their brains in shape.

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