Fitness trackers reveal links between exercise, memory and mental health


Summary: Specific exercise intensity over a long period of time is associated with various aspects of memory and mental health.

source: Dartmouth College

Exercise can improve your cognitive and mental health — but not all forms and intensity of exercise affect the brain equally. A new Dartmouth study shows that the effects of exercise are more subtle, with exercise intensity over a long period of time correlating with various aspects of memory and mental health.

The results have been published in Scientific Reports and provide insight into how to improve your workout.

“Mental health and memory are fundamental to nearly everything we do in our daily lives,” says lead author Jeremy Manning, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth. “Our study attempts to build a foundation for understanding how different physical exercise intensity affects different aspects of mental and cognitive health.”

The researchers asked 113 Fitbit users to take a series of memory tests, answer some questions about their mental health, and share their fitness data from the previous year. They predicted that more active individuals would have better memory performance and better mental health, but the results were more accurate.

People who tended to exercise at a low intensity performed better on some memory tasks, while those who exercised at a high intensity performed better on other memory tasks. Participants who were more active also reported higher stress levels, while people who exercised regularly at a lower intensity showed lower rates of anxiety and depression.

Previous research has often focused on the effects of exercise on memory over a relatively short period of time over several days or weeks, but the Dartmouth researchers wanted to study the effects over a much longer timescale.

The data included daily step count, average heart rates, and the amount of time spent exercising in different “heart rate zones” as defined by FitBit (rest, out of range, fat burn, cardio, peak ), and other information collected during an entire calendar year. Study participants were recruited online from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a collective workforce.

The four types of memory tasks used in the study were designed to explore different aspects of participants’ abilities over different time periods. Two sets of tasks aimed to test “episodic” memory – the same type of memory used to remember autobiographical events, as you did yesterday.

Another set of tasks is designed to test “spatial” memory – the same type of memory used to remember locations, such as where you parked your car. The last set of tasks tested “associative” memory – the ability to remember connections between concepts or other memories.

Participants who had been more active during the previous year tended to show better memory performance overall, but the specific areas of improvement depended on the types of activity the subjects did.

The researchers found that participants who often exercised at a moderate intensity tended to perform better on episodic memory tasks while participants who often exercised at a high intensity performed better on spatial memory tasks. Sedentary participants who rarely exercise tend to perform worse on spatial memory tasks.

This indicates someone is looking at a Fitbit
Participants who had been more active during the previous year tended to show better memory performance overall, but the specific areas of improvement depended on the types of activity the subjects did. The image is in the public domain

The researchers also identified links between participants’ mental health and memory performance. Participants with self-reported anxiety or depression tended to perform better on spatial and associative memory tasks, while those with self-reported bipolar disorder tended to perform better on episodic memory tasks. Participants who reported higher levels of stress tended to perform worse on associative memory tasks.

The team made all their data and codes available for free on github For anyone who wants to explore or better understand the data set.

“When it comes to physical activity, memory, and mental health, there’s a really complex dynamic that can’t be summed up in single sentences like ‘walking improves your memory’ or ‘stress hurts your memory,’” Manning says.

“Instead, it appears that certain forms of physical activity and specific aspects of mental health affect each aspect of memory differently.”

As more research is conducted, the team says their findings could have some exciting applications. “For example, to help students prepare for an exam or reduce their depressive symptoms, specific exercise regimens can be designed to help improve their cognitive performance and mental health,” Manning says.

see also

This shows a depressed teenage girl

About this research in Neuroscience News

author: Amy Olson
source: Dartmouth College
Contact: Amy Olson – Dartmouth College
picture: The image is in the public domain

original search: open access.
Fitness tracking reveals task-specific associations between memory, mental health, and physical activityWritten by Jeremy Manning et al. Scientific Reports


Summary

Fitness tracking reveals task-specific associations between memory, mental health, and physical activity

Physical activity can benefit both physical and mental health. Different forms of exercise (eg, aerobic versus anaerobic; running versus walking, swimming, or yoga; high intensity interval training versus endurance exercise; etc.) For example, running may greatly affect leg strength and core but only moderately affect arm strength.

We hypothesized that the mental benefits of physical activity might be similarly differentiated. We focused specifically on how different intensities of physical activity might be related to different aspects of memory and mental health.

To test our hypothesis, we collected (in aggregate) nearly a century of fitness data. We then asked participants to fill out surveys asking them to submit a self-report on various aspects of their mental health. We also asked participants to participate in a set of memory tasks that tested episodic, semantic, and spatial memory performance in the short and long term.

We found that participants with similar physical activity habits and fitness profiles also tended to show similar mental health and task performance profiles. These effects were task-specific in terms of differing patterns of physical activity or fitness characteristics across different aspects of memory, in different tasks.

Taken together, these results provide foundational work for the design of physical activity interventions that target specific components of cognitive performance and mental health by utilizing low-cost fitness trackers.


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