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The research suggests that some forms of exercise are better at helping you remember details, while others might help more with things like where you left your keys.
Exercising has many benefits: it’s good for our physical health, can boost our mood and even make us more resilient to stress. It can also improve memory by helping the brain create new neural pathways in different parts of the brain.
A new study, as examined in the New York Times, has now further strengthened the link between exercise and memory. According to the article, the research paper from Dartmouth College in the US, also delves into how different types – or, rather intensities – of exercise impact on our memory.
Interestingly, the academics behind the study found that the participants who undertook light to moderate activities – such as going for regular walks – had better ‘episodic’ memory. In simpler terms, that means the ability to recall details of everyday events, such as catching up with a friend in a café.
For those who participated in running or High Intensity Interval Training (HITT), their spatial memory improved. Spatial memory refers to the ability to remember physical relationships, such as where you left your keys or locating a particular landmark or object.
As highlighted in the NYT piece, these findings fit with a number of previous studies but more work needs to be done in strengthening the associations and understanding their cause.
Science writer, and author of the piece, Rachel Fairbank also touches on the difficulties of this area of study. She writes:
“One of the major challenges with studying the link between regular exercise and memory is that the changes are hard to measure. This is complicated by the fact that many other factors affect memory, like working a sedentary office job or chronic sleep deprivation.
Furthermore, there are different types of memory — which explains how a person might constantly lose their keys (poor spatial memory) but have a knack for remembering birth dates (strong semantic memory).”
But, while there may be more work needed by researchers to fully understand the nuanced details of how exercise affects different types of memory, there are many benefits we already know about.
From protecting against conditions such as heart disease and boosting energy, exercise has also been shown to improve concentration and sleep.
As if we needed more reason to love getting active.