Older women who did an hour or two of strength training exercises each week had improved cognitive function a year later, scoring higher on tests of the brain processes responsible for planning and executing tasks, a new study has found.
Researchers in British Columbia randomly assigned 155 women ages 65 to 75 either to strength training with dumbbells and weight machines once or twice a week, or to a comparison group doing balance and toning exercises.
A year later, the women who did strength training had improved their performance on tests of so-called executive function by 10.9 percent to 12.6 percent, while those assigned to balance and toning exercises experienced a slight deterioration — 0.5 percent. The improvements in the strength training group included an enhanced ability to make decisions, resolve conflicts and focus on subjects without being distracted by competing stimuli.
Older women are generally less likely than others to do strength training, even though it can promote bone health and counteract muscle loss, said Teresa Liu-Ambrose, a researcher at the Center for Hip Health and Mobility at Vancouver General Hospital and the lead author of the paper, which appears in the Jan. 25 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.
Dr. Court’s Comments
The feedback to the brain from our muscular system is immense. Ninety percent, yes 90%, of the information that comes into our brains on a daily basis comes from the muscles and joints of our skeletal system. It stands to reason that if you increase that input by working out, for example, you could maintain the health of your brain. Remember, the brain operates on the use it or lose it principle as do many other systems in our bodies. You can successfully maintain brain function by doing simple things like staying active which not only includes things like strength training, but also staying involved in activities that require intense mental activity.
While the brain needs the stimulation of activity to survive, whether mental or physical, that is only half of the story. It also needs fuel. This comes in the form of oxygen and glucose, or blood sugar. Strength training increases blood flow to the brain, improving oxygen and glucose delivery. This improvement makes one’s brain more efficient and healthier overall.
So remember, stay active both mentally and physically and you can keep your brain healthier and happier, longer!