Pumping iron obviously builds muscle. And it’s been tied to energy gain, weight loss and overall health. But who knew weight lifting or the use of resistance bands could nudge your noggin toward optimal brain function.
At least that’s what multiple studies at this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference determined. The researchers found that resistance training was instrumental in improving the cognitive abilities of older adults.
And while the studies were relatively small — 150 participants or less — the findings are persuasive. One study, featuring women between the ages of 70 and 80, split participants into three groups: weight lifting, walking, or balance and tone exercises. They hit the gym, so to speak, twice a week for 6 months, each group doing their respective workouts. All of them improved their brain function, according to lead investigator Dr. Teresa Liu Ambrose, but those with the most improved cognitive function — attention, memory, and planning — were the weight lifters.
One of the really interesting findings was who was helped most by the resistance training. You might think that those who are suffering heavily from dementia might have the most to gain, but that wasn’t the case. Those with higher cognitive baselines actually realized the most benefit from exercise.
This means it’s important to do what you can to prevent the decline in the first place, and a logical extension from these findings is that a lifetime of resistance training should keep the mind sharp.
At a time when the Alzheimer’s Association estimates there are 5.4 million Americans living with the disease and says it’s the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, this is big news. Not to mention that the group expects the number of people with Alzheimer’s to nearly triple to 16 million by 2050.
Early detection and prevention is extremely important. Several studies pointed to gait disturbances as a predictor of dementia. So if you’re having difficulty walking, make sure to see a specialist and nip it in the bud.
And moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas: Get in the gym and start hitting those weights. Your brain will thank you.