There is proof, as far as proof can be made certain in the context of a scientific study, that lifting weights will in fact improve the ability of your brain to function. In a very recent study, seniors who lifted weights or did other forms of resistance training slowed their decline to full-blown dementia, a study including British Columbia researchers has found.
In this six-month strength training program, women with mild cognitive impairment and those who complained of memory problems, helped to improve their attention, problem-solving and decision-making brain functions due to weight training. Resistance training improved the function of brain areas that support decision-making, researchers found.
Here are the study’s specifics:
In the study, 86 women 70 to 80 years old were randomly assigned to three groups:
26 participants did resistance training, such as lifting weights, to build muscle strength.
24 walked outdoors in an aerobics program.
27 took basic balance and toning classes as a control.
The exercise classes were held twice weekly.
The researchers claimed that their results showed that resistance training can indeed improve both your cognitive performance and your brain function. What made these findings so amazing is that strength training will improve two processes that are highly sensitive to the effects of aging and neurodegeneration: executive function and associative memory — often impaired in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Resistance training to work specific muscle groups is an important aspect of fitness, helping increase muscle mass and slow down or halt muscle loss, slow bone loss, and maintain or increase joint flexibility. In the case of the B.C. research, the resistance training program improved associative memory, which refers to the ability of one thought or memory to trigger another, as well as conflict resolution.
Almost one-third had functional MRI’s at the start and end of the study to look for brain activity changes. After six months, compared to those in the balance and tone classes, the strength-training group showed significant cognitive improvement, the researchers said in this week’s issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. Those in the strength-training group also showed changes in activity in specific parts of the brain’s cortex that are associated with cognitive behaviour.
The investigators prepared a YouTube video to guide seniors and fitness instructors working with older people on how to start doing simple exercises at home or at the gym. These exercises include the arguable single best muscle-building exercise of all; squats.
The researchers advised seniors new to exercising to use a trainer to ensure they’re doing the exercises with proper form and to build up from there.
The study included a small number of subjects, and needs to be repeated in a larger group to confirm the value of resistance training in seniors and test for longer-term benefits.
Those in the aerobic training group didn’t show the same cognitive improvements. The explanation was that the mental power needed to learn the resistance training could be part of it. Most aerobic exercises are not something that requires much mental capacity. Regardless of the type, it tends to be one foot in front of the other. Learning proper lifting technique, on the other hand, can take years to master.
Strength training itself is a type of exercise that requires a lot of attention.
When you are performing strength-training exercises such as lifting weights, you’re constantly monitoring what you’re doing, you’re monitoring your breathing, you’re trying to monitor the number of sets, the repetitions you’re doing as well as maintaining good form. Maybe lifting weights isn’t for meat heads after all.