Accumulating scientific evidence indicates that aerobic exercise is beneficial for cognitive functioning and brain plasticity. However, the possible benefits of resistance exercise (i.e. strength exercise, weight lifting) for brain health and functioning hasn’t received as much attention. Is it time we exchange our dumbbells for running shoes? Can stronger muscles provide you with a stronger brain?
According to recent studies, all your squatting and bench-pressing hasn’t been in vain. A randomized controlled study of 155 older women found that resistance exercise once or twice a week for one year promoted executive functions, which are cognitive processes such as attention, working memory, and problem solving. In addition, the women who exercised twice a week demonstrated better memory performance, and less cortical white matter atrophy, which is a loss of brain cells and connections between them. Another study examining effects of resistance exercise in older individuals found that resistance exercise twice a week for a year positively affected cognitive task performance and brain plasticity, which are essential for healthy aging. Even older individuals with mild cognitive impairment could significantly improve their cognitive functioning with resistance exercise and increased muscle strength, a recent study found.
However, you may not have to sweat through months of workouts before experiencing the benefits of resistance exercise. A study showed that just a single bout of resistance training can enhance episodic memory already 48 hours after your first exercise.
In other words, continue doing your push-ups and deadlifts because research shows that stronger muscles may also help you achieve a stronger brain.
Ekatarina Zotcheva, PhD student at CERG