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Further proof that increasing your muscle strength can improve your brain

If you think that you’re too old to start weight training, it’s time to think again as researchers from the University of Sydney have just added further weight to the idea that improving your muscle strength can also improve your brain’s ability to function. From their recent trial, the researchers found that adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), were able to improve their brain function after undergoing a program of weight training.

Individuals with MCI usually exhibit signs of reduced cognitive ability, but are generally able to live independently. As the number of people with dementia is expected to rise to around 135 million by 2050, this study has serious implications for the recommended exercise targets for older people.

The results of the study, known as the Study of Mental and Resistance Training (SMART), showed a positive causal link between how the muscle adapts to a progressive program of resistance training and the brain function of people aged over 55 who have been diagnosed with MCI. Furthermore, the improvement in their cognitive function was directly related to the gain in muscle strength. The stronger an individual became, the more their brain benefitted.

One hundred people with MCI took part in the double-blind trial, with each participant being assigned to one of four groups. Each of the groups were given a different exercise program, comprising resistance exercise or seated stretching and some form of brain training. At the end of the study, it was found that those people who had been prescribed progressive weight training exhibited significant improvements in their global cognition as measured on the Alzheimer’s disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive scale. Furthermore, these benefits continued for a year after the exercise sessions had finished.

So the message is, if you want your brain to stay as healthy as possible, you should consider taking part in some form of resistance training. But if you do, make sure that you do it consistently and at a high intensity to give your brain the maximum boost. It seems that we should no longer call people who lift weights ‘meatheads’ as it couldn’t be further from the truth!

The results of the study were published in a recent edition of the online Journal of American Geriatrics.

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