Weight Resistance Training May Slow Brain Deterioration

Weight Lifting Can Benefit the Brain
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Need more motivation to exercise? Research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society provides a compelling reason to make physical exercise a priority-- our brain health. While any exercise can be beneficial, this study found that a specific type and frequency of that exercise made a difference.

The Study

This research study involved 42 women between the ages of 65-75 whose magnetic resonance imaging scans showed lesions in the white matter of their brains.

 White matter lesions in the brain are spots that show up on MRIs as hyperintensities- brighter, white areas. While some change in the brain's white matter might be expected as we age, these lesions have been correlated with a higher risk of dementia, stroke and physical decline.

The women in this study were randomly assigned to participate in one of three groups: a twice-a-week weight resistance training group, a once-a-week weight resistance training group and a twice-a-week balance and tone training group. The training in each group lasted for a year.

At the beginning and at the end of the study, three areas were assessed:

  • The participants underwent MRIs to measure the amount of white matter lesions.
  • Their executive functioning ability (the ability to plan, organize information and make decisions) was also evaluated through using the Stroop test.
  • Gait speed in walking was evaluated.

The Results

The researchers found that the women who participated in the weight resistance training twice a week had a significantly lower volume of white matter lesions than did those who only did the weight training once a week or those who did the balance and tone training.

Those with a lesser amount of white matter lesions also maintained their gait speed in walking. There was not a significant difference found for any of the three groups in executive functioning.

What Did the "Resistance Training" Include?

In this study, resistance training consisted of a combination of free weight exercises and machine weights.

The exercises targeted different areas of the arms and legs, and also included mini-squats, mini-lunges and lunge walks.

The balance and toning training consisted of stretching, relaxation, tai-chi based positions, single-leg stance and kegel exercises to target basic core strength.

Conclusions

As is the case with many research studies, we can't necessarily conclude that resistance training caused a lower amount of white matter lesions in the brain. We can, however, note that there is a correlation between the two. In other words, those who worked out with weights twice a week were more likely to have a healthier brain than those who did not.

Although this study did not show a significant difference in the executive functioning scores for the participants, the results still reinforce the idea of the heart-head connection-- that what's good for the heart is generally good for the brain. And, in this case, twice-a-week weight training was superior in its brain benefits, and had the added benefit of maintaining gait speed ( one measure of physical functioning).

Additional Resources:

Protect Your Brain by Understanding the Heart-Head Connection

What Type of Physical Exercise Best Prevents and Slows Dementia?

How Can You Reduce the Risk of Falls in People with Dementia?

Source:

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Volume 63, Issue 10, pages 2052–2060, October 2015. Resistance Training and White Matter Lesion Progression in Older Women: Exploratory Analysis of a 12-Month Randomized Controlled Trial. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jgs.13644/abstract;jsessionid=B0B82E371F712C1AC368C0B88EE47A27.f01t03

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