By Dante Baza
A study, led by the University of Sydney in Australia and the Center for healthy brain aging, found that gradually increasing muscle strength through activities such as weightlifting improves cognitive function. The results of the study have been published in the Journal of American Geriatrics.
The trial was carried out on 100 patients with mild cognitive impairment between 55-68 years old. It observed progressive resistance training and the functioning of the brain.
They examined 100 older adults living with MCI. "Mild cognitive impairment" refers to older patients who have cognitive difficulties that are noticeable but not significant enough to interfere with their daily activities. The MCI patients were divided into four groups and assigned a range of activities. These included a combination of resistance exercise, a computerized cognitive training game, and placebos meant to mimic those. The resistance exercise yielded improvement, cognitive training and placebo activities did not. The study, in essence, demonstrated proportional relation between improvement in the brain and improvement in muscle strength.
"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." - Lead author Dr. Yorgi Mavros
Previous studies have shown a positive link between physical exercise and cognitive function as well. In one of these previous trials, participants did weightlifting sessions twice a week for 6 months, working to at least 80 percent of their peak strength. The weights were gradually increased as participants got stronger, all the while maintaining their peak strength at 80 percent.
"The more we can get people doing resistance training like weightlifting, the more likely we are to have a healthier aging population," says Dr. Mavros. "The key, however, is to make sure you are doing it frequently, at least twice a week, and at a high intensity so that you are maximizing your strength gains. This will give you the maximum benefit for your brain."
Based on the results of these studies, It has been suggested that exercise indirectly helps prevent the onset of Alzheimer's disease and lowers the risk of cognitive impairment. Exercise helps with physiological processes such as glucoregulation and cardiovascular health. When these processes are impaired they increase the risk of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease.
People with mild cognitive impairment are particularly at risk for Alzheimer’s and Dementia; around 8% of people with MCI will develop one of these diseases in their lifetime. Alzheimer’s disease, for instance, is predicted to affect 13.8 million in the US by 2050. Thus, the findings are particularly significant.
The bottom line is that in addition to physical benefits, exercise may provide mental benefits and ward off dangerous illnesses.