Question by Anton Goldberg:
What surprised me the most in your interview was when you said that physical exercise doesn’t help improve memory as much as mental exercise does. I get the opposite impression when reading media reports. Can you point out the research that supports your view? And, if true, why isn’t the media doing a better job at explaining the science?
Answer by Dr. Elizabeth Zelinski:
The research at the time showed that exercise improved supervisory functions like working memory and executive function and processing speed. These are different from, say, remembering a list of words. It’s what was missing from the published work. I had noticed it because the early exercise research in the 1970s and 80s generally failed to improve memory. There is some recent evidence that spatial memory is improved with aerobic exercise, but it’s only from one lab. I published a meta-analysis in 2012 comparing gains in untrained task performance after taking out the effect of practice in doing similar tasks at pretest and posttest, for both aerobic exercise and cognitive training interventions. About 4000 people in 42 studies were summarized. Untrained task improvement was similar for both types of interventions, so physical exercise isn’t better, no matter what the media says. As the SharpBrains Guide says, though, you need both for health.
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