Weight Resistance Training May Slow Brain Deterioration

Weight Lifting Can Benefit the Brain
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc Blend Images/ Getty Images

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.


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?


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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