Juvenon Health Journal – November 2015, No. 8
Give Your Brain a Lift with Strength Training
Research reveals what women can do to keep their aging brains strong
It’s no secret that exercise is beneficial for the brain and the Juvenon Health Journal has explored the topic from many angles in the past. (see Exercise: A Brain Tonic). However, most studies that link exercise and brain health have concentrated on the effects of walking, running or other aerobic activities. But now exciting new research indicates that light strength training may stem the tide of age-related shrinking of the brain.
Aging White Matter
Our brains are in a constant state of remodel; adding and shedding neurons and connections. Still, like every other part of our bodies, our brains are vulnerable to the rigors of aging. In turn, many neurological studies have proven that by late middle age, most people’s brains have developed age-related lesions in the white matter. This white matter is like a computer router, connecting and passing messages between different areas of the brain. These lesions will show up on brain scans early on, typically before someone notices any waning in brain power. But as we age, these lesions can increase both in size and numbers, which can shrink the white matter, affecting our cognitive process.
Up-Lifting Brain Studies
As stated previously, there are several studies suggesting that regular exercise may slow the damage to white matter. However, scientists decided to take it a step further and investigate how others types of exercise might be beneficial. Teresa Liu-Ambrose, a professor of physical therapy and director of the Aging, Mobility, and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, led a study that explored the benefits of weight training. The researchers wondered if one could strengthen the white matter, like a muscle.
Scientists know that our muscles, like our brains, have a tendency to shrink as we age, affecting how we move. So, this reduction of muscle mass typically results in a slower, less steady walking style, or gait. Therefore, scientists posit that changes in gait as we age may indicate and contribute to declines in brain health.
Taking this theory a step further, Dr. Liu-Ambrose, and her team of researchers, wondered if weight training could alter this process and in turn benefit both body and brain. The study, recently published in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, involved a large group of healthy women between the ages of 65 and 75 who had already had at least one benchmark brain scan. The scientists picked the 54 women whose scans showed existing white matter lesions.
The women were randomly divided into three groups. One group was assigned to do a once-weekly program of light upper- and lower-body weight training. Another group did the same weight-training routine twice a week. The third group of women was assigned a twice-weekly program of stretching and balance exercises.
After a year, the women’s brains were scanned again and their walking gaits re-examined. The researchers found the number and size of the brain lesions had indeed grown and increased in every group.
However, those who participated in the twice-weekly, weight training sessions showed significantly less growth than the other two groups. Additionally, the researchers observed that this same group also walked more quickly and smoothly than the other two groups.
Dr. Liu-Ambrose was interviewed about the findings in The New York Times. She said the findings suggest that weight training can beneficially change the structure of the brain, but that “a minimum threshold of exercise needs to be achieved.”
Importantly, the study also suggests that perhaps two weekly visits to the gym are favored over just one visit. According to The New York Times, this experiment did not closely examine whether differences in the women’s white matter translated into meaningful differences in their ability to think, although the researchers plan to study that issue soon, as well as men’s response to weight training.
Dr. Liu-Ambrose said to The New York Times that whatever the reason, exercise, including weight training, clearly has benefit for the brain. “However, we are just really now gaining an appreciation for how impactful exercise can be.”
In the coming months, the Juvenon Health Journal will continue to feature research that will help you stay informed and healthy. By offering effective, all-natural supplements and health news you can use, Juvenon provides an essential arsenal for combating aging enemies.