News Briefs: Exercise & Depression; Heavy Drinking & Dementia Risk; First Memories

Study Underscores Value of Exercise for Individuals with Depression

A common challenge for individuals with depression is finding the motivation to exercise on a regular basis. In addition to the mental health benefits of physical activity, exercise is also key to lowering the risk of heart disease and other serious health problems. A study published recently in the JAMA: Psychiatry confirms the importance of keeping fit if you also have depression. In a study of more than 18,000 people, researchers found that individuals with the highest fitness levels in midlife were less likely to die of heart disease, even if they had depression. Doctors have long noted the association between depression and heart disease. People who have a heart attack or are diagnosed with heart disease often develop depressive symptoms following this change in their health. Unfortunately, depression then keeps these people from exercising, following a healthy diet, taking their medications as prescribed and following up with doctor appointments. On the other hand, exercise can help reduce inflammation, which may be a factor in the development and progression of depression. The researchers suggested several strategies to help people with depression find the motivation to exercise. Among them were setting a schedule for exercise, while also forgiving yourself if you miss one or more days. Working out with a friend and mixing up the kinds of activities you do can help keep you interested and avoid monotony. Keeping a log to track your progress also can be helpful as it allows you to see how much you’re exercising and make the connection between that progress and improvements in your mood and energy level.

Both Heavy Drinking and Long-Term Abstinence Associated with Higher Dementia Risk

Excessive alcohol consumption in midlife may increase your odds of developing dementia later in life, according to a study published in The BMJ recently. Interestingly, researchers also found an increased risk of dementia among people who didn’t drink at all during midlife. Researchers noted that the possible mechanisms linking the two behaviors with dementia risk are likely to be much different. Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with a long list of health problems, including liver disease, weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer. While abstaining from alcohol doesn’t appear to contribute to particular unhealthy conditions, previous research has suggested that modest alcohol consumption may actually provide individuals some protective benefits. The study, which included about 9,000 British civil servants, notes that modest alcohol consumption may be particularly helpful with brain health. Study participants were followed for an average of 20 years, with researchers carefully noting diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, and other lifestyle factors, as well as any changes in their health. This was an observational study, which means the researchers couldn’t demonstrate that heavy drinking or abstaining directly affected dementia risk.

Researchers Find That Many First Memories Are Fictional

Think about your first memory, the oldest recollection you have. Chances are good, according to researchers at City University in London, England, that first memory isn’t entirely accurate. In a study published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers surveyed more than 6,600 adults about their first memories. Many of the people who responded shared stories from the age of 2 or even younger. The people who were surveyed were told the memories couldn’t be based on a family photograph, story or any other source apart from direct experience. Upon reviewing the responses, researchers determined that about 40 percent of the “first memories” were not actual memories, but recollections of fragments of early experiences and knowledge of family history. You may have grown up hearing about a trip to the beach when you were a toddler, and over time those stories coalesced into what you perceived to be a memory of that trip. The researchers noted that one other reason why recollections from around age 2 are potentially problematic is that it’s not until the age of 5 or so that our brain is developed enough to give a more mature understanding of the world around us and allow for real memories to be stored for recall much later in life.

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