A group of Australian researchers found that weight training could dramatically improve global cognition levels and even stave off dementia. But the key to maximum effects is to exercise regularly and at high intensity.
The study involved participants between the ages of 55 and 86 with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, sometimes a sign of early Alzheimer’s disease. Volunteers agreed to a regimen of weight training on a weekly basis.
Researchers said they found an association between a boost in physical strength and better brain functions. The same team published a similar study two years ago, documenting the benefits of weight lifting as opposed to cognitive training.
The latest research represents a follow-up study of the 2014 analysis. Dr. Yorgi Mavros said the latest research revealed cognitive function improved proportionally to muscle strength gains.
“The stronger people became, the greater the benefit for their brain,”
the researcher added.
Participants lifted weights at high intensity twice a week for six months. The weights were 20 percent less heavy than the maximum they could lift. Researchers hiked the amount of weight as participants got better, but within the 80 percent range.
Weight Training’s Benefits
Scientists performed MRI scans on each participant regularly. The imagery revealed improvements in the brains of volunteers who stuck to the training program. Even though the team found only an association between weight training and cognitive improvement, the benefits are visible. Dr. Mavros recommends weight training for everyone who wants to keep their mind sharp as they age.
Researchers are confident that the more people will do resistance training the higher the odds to have a healthy “aging population.” But the study authors added the key is to make a routine out of it and exercise at least twice a week. Plus, the intensity should be within the high range for maximum benefits for both muscles and the brain.
Co-author of the study Prof. Maria Fiatarone Singh revealed a follow-up study would focus on finding a link between improvements in muscle strength and larger brain size. The team would also look for an “underlying messenger” that links muscle strength to cognitive improvement in the next study. In addition, researchers will seek the training program with the best benefits.
Alzheimer’s Society commented on the findings. Dr. James Pickett described it as a good starting point for research into the benefits of physical exercise for brain health. This topic is especially important to people who get older as cases of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are surging worldwide.
International research estimates that 135 million people will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease by 2050. In the U.S., 5.4 million adults live with the condition, and that number is expected to rise threefold by 2050 in the absence of a cure.
One early sign of dementia onset is the so-called mild cognitive impairment, which marks a more blatant cognitive decline than the one related to aging processes. But Dr. Pickett explained not all patients with MCI end up with Alzheimer’s.
Pickett also said there’s no evidence that regular weight training could stave off dementia or improve the symptoms in people who have it. He recommends pairing regular exercise with a healthy diet and lifestyle.
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