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Lifting Weights May Give the Brain a Lift

Here’s a workout for your brain: Researchers have found that doing resistance training twice a week may slow the progression of age-related brain lesions, which are common in middle-aged people. These lesions, or holes, in the brain’s white matter—the part of the brain that connects and passes messages between different brain regions—can negatively affect cognition. The study was reported on by the New York Times and published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society; it included 54 women, aged 65 to 75, who already had evidence of white matter lesions. The women were divided into three groups: the first group did a resistance training workout once a week, the second group did a resistance training workout twice a week, and the third group did a balance and stretching workout twice a week. The resistance training consisted of light weight lifting. Researchers measured the volume of white matter lesions using MRIs at the beginning and end of the year-long study. Here is what they found:

  • While all three groups had an increase in lesions, the women doing resistance training twice a week had fewer lesions than the other two groups.
  • Maintaining the ability to walk quickly and smoothly was associated with losing less white matter in the two resistance training groups.

This study is interesting because the findings suggest that the right amount (only twice a week!) of resistance training could potentially protect parts of the brain. However, more research is needed to understand if the study’s results translate into meaningful differences in cognitive function over the long term. In addition, more research could help uncover how improved walking ability relates to the brain’s white matter and to cognitive function. In the meantime, if you want to try pumping some iron, talk with your healthcare practitioner to pick the resistance training program that’s right for you.

Source: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

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