Research: Connections Between Exercise and Mental Health Are Shown by Fitness Trackers

Research: Connections Between Exercise and Mental Health Are Shown by Fitness Trackers

Research: Connections Between Exercise and Mental Health Are Shown by Fitness Trackers

You are aware that exercise is beneficial to you and is good for your heart. But are you aware that engaging in physical exercise is beneficial to your mental health too? And in addition, how much vigorous physical exercise do you need to do to keep your mental health in check?

Washington: An associate professor of psychology and brain science at Dartmouth, has this to say: "Mental health and memory are crucial to nearly everything we do in our everyday lives." The purpose of our research is to lay the groundwork for determining how varying amounts of physical activity affect numerous elements of mental and cognitive health.

All types and levels of exercise are not created equal when it comes to their impact on the brain's health and performance.

A recent study done at Dartmouth shows that the effects of exercise are much more complicated than thought before. Different levels of exercise intensity over a long period are linked to different parts of memory and mental health.

Researchers thought that people who exercised more would also have better mental health, so they 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 last year.

A complex combination of data implies that lower-intensity exercise may enhance specific memory tasks, while higher-intensity exercise may benefit other memory tasks.

People who exercised at a higher intensity reported higher levels of stress, while those who exercised consistently but at a lower intensity reported fewer negative emotions.

Even though previous studies have shown that exercise can improve memory, they have only done so for short periods of time. This is why researchers at Dartmouth wanted to look at the benefits over a much longer period of time.
Many metrics were gathered over a year, including average heart rates; total time spent exercising in different "heart rate zones," as defined by Fitbit (relax, out of range, fat burn, cardio, or peak), and the number of steps taken each day. Amazon's Mechanical Turk, a crowd-sourced workforce, was used to find study volunteers online.

Different components of participants' skills over time were tested using the four types of memory tasks employed in the study. Two groups of tests examined "episodic" memory, the kind of recall required to recall one's own life experiences, such as one's actions from the day before.

Another set of tasks was made to test "spatial" memory, which is the kind of memory you use to remember where you parked your car, for example. The last set of tasks tested your "associative" memory, or your ability to remember links between different ideas or memories.

The individuals' mental well-being was found to have an impact on their memory abilities. Self-reported anxiety and sadness were associated with improved performance on spatial and associative memory tests, while the self-reported bipolar illness was associated with improved performance on episodic memory tasks. The associative memory tests were more difficult for those who reported higher stress levels.

The memory performance of those who had been more active during the previous year was better on average, but the exact areas in which this enhancement was shown varied by participant activity. Frequent moderate-intensity exercisers performed better on episodic memory tests, whereas regular vigorous exercisers performed better on spatial memory tasks. Regularly inactive individuals performed lower on spatial memory tasks.

It's not simply that "walking helps your memory" or "stress negatively affects your memory," says Manning; the relationship between physical exercise, memory, and mental health is complex.

All of the team's data and code has been posted to GitHub and is open for everyone to use and learn from.  

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Psychologs Magazine

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