All of us have heard since the beginning of time that exercise and physical fitness is good for us. It can improve physical health, boost mood, reduce stress, and whatnot. Well, guess what! Research has found that exercise can also help improve working memory. Specifically, for people with depression. Wondering what working memory does? Here you go!
Working memory has two primary purposes. Firstly, as the name suggests, it allows you to temporarily store information for immediate use. Secondly, it enables you to manipulate and process that information in your mind. It’s much like a mental workspace where you can hold and work with various pieces of information. Now, the question is how is this any different for people who have depression?
Well, as we know, attention, concentration, and memory are just a few of the cognitive functions that can be affected by depression. With this, working memory, in particular, may be affected too. According to research, people who are depressed may have trouble controlling and maintaining knowledge in their working memory. They could have difficulty paying attention, planning their thoughts, and accurately memorizing information. Even focusing on work, following instructions, or remembering specifics may be difficult. Now, going back to our research, it says that physical fitness can improve working memory. Isn’t that great? With regular exercise, people with depression may see improvements in their working memory, which will help improve their cognitive abilities and overall mental well-being.
Let’s Get Down To The Specifics!
A recent study, titled “Physical fitness is associated with neural activity during working memory performance in major depressive disorders,” published in NeuroImage: Clinical, sheds light on the relationship between exercise, brain functioning, and major depressive disorder (MDD). The study, authored by M.K. Schwefel, C. Kaufmann, G. Gutmann, R. Henze, T. Fydrich, M.A. Rapp, A. Ströhle, A. Heissel, and S. Heinzel, examined individuals with MDD and explored how exercise influences their brain functioning.
In this study involving 111 outpatients diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) and 56 healthy control participants, researchers examined the relationship between exercise, physical fitness, and cognitive function. Participants needed to engage in less than 90 minutes of intense physical exercise per week to be included in the study. The study assessed participants’ physical fitness levels and observed their brain activity during working memory tasks.
Here Are The Interesting Results!
The findings suggest that increased physical activity and fitness can have anti-depressive effects on individuals with MDD. These effects are believed to be facilitated by neuroplasticity, which supports cognitive functioning.
Individuals with MDD performed worse and had slower responses to a working memory task compared to healthy individuals, especially when the task required more mental effort. Brain scans revealed reduced activity in specific brain regions associated with working memory in MDD patients. However, individuals with MDD who had higher levels of physical fitness showed increased brain activity in the prefrontal cortex during working memory tasks. This suggests that higher fitness levels may help improve working memory function in individuals with MDD.
In summary, exercise helps the brain build and strengthen connections, improving its efficiency in working with and remembering information. Regular exercise is like a workout for the brain, making it stronger and enhancing working memory skills. Now, this has important implications for treating depression, suggesting that exercise can be an effective additional therapy for improving cognitive function and reducing symptoms.