How lifting weights keeps your brain healthy

According to a big number of new studies, resistance training can enhance cognitive functioning and slow down the age-related shrinking of certain parts of the brain, especially in older people. The key, however, is in the quality and quantity of the workouts.

One study from the University of California, Irvine, found that a brief workout can improve memory in older men and women (50 to 85 years old) due to the enhanced release of the hormone norepinephrine, which is an important chemical messenger in the brain, while another study from the Georgia Institute of Technology has proven that working out regularly for as little as 20 minutes can boost the long-term memory by around 10%.

And most recently, a study published in The Journal of The American Geriatrics Society investigated how lifting weights affected the developing of age-related lesions in the brains’ white matter.

The white matter is responsible for connecting different brain regions and enabling communication between them. With age, the white matter slowly deteriorates and this degradation affects many areas of our brain’s health. The lead author of the study, Teresa Liu-Ambrose, explains it this way: “Think of white matter as the highways of our brains, and the lesions as potholes in the road.“

The lesions slow down neural signals, and over time, neural messages can’t get where they need to go, resulting in impaired brain function. In the study, the participants with preexisting white matter lesions who followed a program of upper and lower body weight training twice a week over the course of one year had a significantly slower progression of the white matter lesions.

On the other hand, the ones who did only stretching and balance exercises or had one weight training per week  had an increase of white matter lesions, compared to the first group. According to Liu-Ambrose, this means that a minimum threshold of exercise needs to be achieved in order to reap the positive benefits of resistance training on brain health.

But the best part is that many studies like these show that it’s never to late to start lifting, and this particular form of exercise could significantly improve the cognitive functioning even in older people with high risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

We’ve always known that exercise is good for the brain, but these findings suggest that resistance training might be the most powerful tool for slowing down the degenerative processes in the brain and maintaining a sharp memory and mental clarity. So in case you didn’t have enough reasons for it until now, start pumping to keep your brain healthy!

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