Doing physical exercise will only bring us joy. This type of activity contributes to the prevention and management of non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes. It also reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety. And it improves reasoning, learning or memory skills.
We know that physical activity can improve our cognitive and mental health. “Physical activity, and cardiovascular exercise in particular, produce profound functional and structural changes in the brain. Most of these changes start at the molecular level with the release of a large number of substances in response to exercise and modulate some of the cognitive processes involved in the cognitive improvements observed with physical activity, such as memory,” he explains. The vanguard Marc Roig, associate professor School of Physical and Occupational Therapy at McGill University (Canada).
The teacher gives some examples: exercise increases the concentration of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline. And some of these modulate cognitive processes such as memory consolidation.
Memory, mental health and physical exercise
But not all forms and intensities of exercise affect the brain equally. The effects are different, depending on the energy with which the activity is carried out. Specifically, specific intensities of exercise over a long period of time are associated with different aspects of memory and mental health, according to the results of a study from Dartmouth University (USA). The findings are published in Scientific Reports and provide information on how exercise could be optimized in the future.
The researchers asked 113 users with a Fitbit device to take a series of memory tests, answer some questions about their mental health, and share their fitness data. They expected that more active people would have better memory performance and mental health. However, the results showed important nuances.
The data included daily step counts, average heart rates, how long you spent exercising in different “heart rate zones” defined by Fitbit, and other information collected over a year.
People who tended to exercise at low intensity performed better on some memory tasks, while those who exercised at high intensity did better on other memory tasks. More differences: Participants who were more intense also reported higher stress levels, while people who exercised regularly at lower intensities showed lower rates of anxiety and depression.
Are exercises with intensity better?
Four types of tasks were designed to assess the skills of the participants. Two aimed to test “episodic” memory, which is used to remember autobiographical events. Other dynamics were also established to test “spatial” memory, which can be summarized in the following recurring question: where is my mobile? Finally, “associative” memory, the ability to recall connections between concepts or other memories, was tested.
Participants who had been more active in the past year tended to show better memory performance overall, but the specific areas of improvement depended on the type of activity people were doing. The researchers found that participants who often exercised at moderate intensities tended to perform better on episodic memory tasks. In contrast, people who exercised at high intensities did better on spatial memory tasks.
“Although we know that exercise is good for different aspects of cognition such as memory, we don’t know which parameters of exercise are the most important. There is, however, some evidence that intensity is possibly key. Many animal and human studies show that exercise has to be vigorous in order to promote substantial changes in the brain and in memory”, says Roig.
Serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline increase in blood concentration in proportion to the intensity of exercise. Therefore, “it is reasonable to think that the higher its concentration, the more effects on memory.” Although that does not mean that moderate intensity exercises are not beneficial, remember this teacher.
Stress affects our memory
The level of stress also influences memory, according to the results. Participants who reported higher levels of stress tended to perform worse on associative memory tasks. That is, there is a relationship between mental health and the performance of your memory.
“Specific forms of physical activity and specific aspects of mental health seem to affect each aspect of memory differently,” summarizes lead author Jeremy Manning, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth.