There are many reasons to partake in strength training; weight-baring exercises are known for their health benefits. But, could lifting weights also boost your brain? Recent research indicates that may just be the case.
To begin the study, researchers asked a group of people aged 55 to 86 to engage in a mix of weight lifting and brain training exercises. All of the people who partook in the study had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, which is a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease, and is an early sign of dementia.
While this particular study did not examine whether the benefits of exercise could be extended to the general population, the results were quite impressive. Published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the study found that weight-baring exercises could indeed provide some brain benefits. The researchers found a casual relationship between an increase in muscle strength and an increase in brain function. On that basis, the team recommended that more people begin a strength training regime so that the world’s aging population can hopefully be a little healthier. It is currently projected that about 135 million people will have dementia by the year 2050.
The same team behind this most recent research also published a paper in 2014 that revealed that weight training provided cognitive benefits to just about every area of the brain – something cognitive training failed to do.
While discussing their most recent data, one of the study’s researchers, Dr. Yorgi Mavros of Sydney University, commented, “What we found in this follow-up study is that the improvement in cognition function was related to their muscle strength gains. The stronger people became, the greater the benefit for their brain.”
For the strength training, study participants were asked to lift weights that were equivalent to about 80 percent of their maximum capacity, twice a week for six months – similar to the way in which many athletes train. And, as the participants got stronger, the amount of weight they lifted went up as well, in order to maintain the desired 80 percent of their maximum effort.
Brain scans revealed that certain regions of the brain actually increased in size for those who took part in the exercise regime. Dr. Mavros says that the benefits were profound enough to warrant recommending weight training for everyone.
“The more we can get people doing resistance training like weight lifting, the more likely we are to have a healthier ageing population,” he told the Independent. Dr. Mavros also added that the best way to ensure that you get the most benefit from exercise is by maintaining a regular routine. Exercising frequently, and with some intensity, is key to getting the most out of what you’re doing.
This new research is not the first to suggest that exercise can provide benefits to brain health. The body of research linking physical exercise to better cognitive function has only continued to grow over the last several years. Science has indicated that in addition to better mental health, exercise can also promote both better memory and concentration.
Dr. James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, also had a few things to say about this new study. He noted, “New research is beginning to unravel how physical exercise may have benefits for the brain as people get older. This study suggests that people with minor memory and thinking problems, known as mild cognitive impairment, may benefit from weight training to improve their brain health.”
Pickett also noted that while it is not yet clear if exercise can reverse dementia, they do know that it is one of the most important factors in its prevention. Along with being active, he says that not smoking and eating a healthy, balanced diet are all essential to reducing the risk.
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