Surprising link between exercise and negative memory bias discovered

Surprising link between exercise and negative memory bias discovered

Usually exercise has positive impacts on mental health outcomes. But a new study suggests that engaging in physical activity could have a surprising side effect. The results indicate that exercise may exacerbate the tendency to recall negative material as opposed to positive material in those who engage in high levels of rumination.

The study was published in Cognitive-behavioral therapy.

“It is well known that exercise is good for mental health and even as effective as antidepressants or psychological treatment in reducing depressive symptoms,” said study author Michele Schmitter, a PhD student at Pro Persona Mental Health Care and Radboud University Nijmegen.

“Yet we still don’t know how exercise relieves depression. This information is important for improving the fit between patient characteristics and treatment and, ultimately, for improving response to treatment. According to the theories cognitive processes of depression (e.g. Beck, 1960), maladaptive cognitive processes such as negatively biased memories or rumination The key mechanism is the development and maintenance of depression.

“As a result, altering these processes is a key target in the treatment of depression,” Schmitter explained. “Because exercise improves brain health in areas related to cognitions and higher-order memory, impaired depressotypical cognitions may act as the mechanisms for the antidepressant effect of exercise that does not has not been tested before.Therefore, our study examined in the laboratory whether physical exercise indeed affects negative memory bias and rumination.

For their study, Schmitter and his colleagues used Radboud University’s research participation system to recruit a sample of 100 people who said they exercised no more than once a week. Participants were around 25 years old on average and just over half (58%) were students.

Participants first completed baseline assessments, including measures of rumination, depressive symptoms, and general activity level.

To induce a negative mood, participants were then asked to watch a segment of the drama film “Sophie’s Choice”. After viewing the segment, participants were randomly assigned to exercise or rest for 24 minutes. Those in exercise condition performed 2 minutes of slow cycling, then 20 minutes of moderate-intensity cycling, followed by a 2-minute recovery time.

Participants then completed another set of assessments, including measures of rumination, negative memory bias, supergeneral memory, and positive and negative affect.

Additionally, positive and negative mood were assessed eight times throughout the study. As expected, participants reported an increase in negative mood and a decrease in positive mood after watching the movie segment. But the researchers found no difference between the two conditions throughout the study. They also observed no difference in general memory or state rumination.

In other words, exercise does not appear to improve (or worsen) overall mood, the ability to retrieve specific autobiographical memories, or ruminative self-focus (e.g. “Right now I’m thinking about how happy or sad I feel”).

However, there were some differences between the two groups.

The researchers found that people in the exercise condition reported more positive affect — emotions such as excitement, alertness, and enthusiasm — compared to those in the rest condition. But among those with higher levels of rumination, those who exercised scored higher on the negative memory bias measure compared to those who rested.

“Our study showed that a single exercise session is not enough to relieve memory bias or rumination, but may even worsen these depressotypical cognitive processes in some people,” Schmitter told PsyPost.

While the link between exercise and positive affect was expected, the link between exercise and negative memory bias was not.

“It was surprising that exercise actually resulted in a more negative memory bias for people who ruminate heavily, even though it increased positive affect at the same time. One explanation for this finding is that people prone to ruminating may have experienced the lab exercise session as stressful,” Schmitter explained.

But the results have an important caveat.

“Exercise was not initiated voluntarily and can be very different from typical exercise activities such as running in nature or listening to good music while running on a treadmill at the gym,” Schmitter told PsyPost. . “In particular, being watched during the session and being required to maintain the right level of intensity could have been felt to be stressful. Future studies are warranted to investigate exercise and depressotypical cognitions in naturalistic settings.

The study, “Solving the Problem: Can Intense Exercise Alleviate Memory Bias, Rumination, and Negative Mood?», was written by Michèle Schmitter, Marie-Anne Vanderhasselt, Jan Spijker, Jasper AJ Smits and Janna N. Vrijsen.

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