Description: We’ve known for a while about the positive effects of aerobic activity on slowing the aging process. The question hasn’t been addressed is the effect of light weight training not just on muscle mass but on brain health. This article describes a study by researchers at the University bridge calm your that examined this question directly.
Source: Lifting Weights, Twice a Week, May Aid the Brain. The New York Times Well Blog, Gretchen Reynolds
Date: October 21, 2015
Photo Credit: Getty Images
We know that exercise is good for the brain. But most of the research in this area is focused on aerobic activity such as running or walking. The brain like other matter in our body is negatively affected by time. Brain scan studies have consistently shown that by late middle age many of us begin to develop age-related holes or lesions in the white matter of our brain. While these changes appear to have little effect initially they eventually may start to affect our cognitive functioning. This particular study made use of a large sample of healthy women between the ages of 65 and 75 were enrolled in a large scale brain health study. In this study the researchers focused on 54 of these women whose brain scans showed existing white matter lesions. They studied these women’s gate, speed, and stability and then created three different groups using random assignment. One group engaged in late upper and lower body weight training once a week while a second group did the same thing twice a week. The third group was a control group and were provided a twice-weekly program of stretching and balance training. Each group continued their regime for a year and at the end of that year had their brains scanned again in their white matter lesions examined. The findings were clear, with women in the control group and those in the once a week weight training group showing increases in the size and number of white matter lesions as well as a significant slowing in their walking gates. Those would lift weights twice a week showed less shrinkage or chattering of their white matter and while there lesions had grown and multiplied somewhat this is not occurred nearly to the same extent as those in the other groups. While it is not clear what these differences translate into noticeable changes in cognitive functioning it is worth considering insuring that a light weight training component exists in the exercise regimes of aging individuals.
Questions for Discussion:
- How did the researchers investigate the question of whether weight training makes a difference in the brains of aging individuals?
- Why might it be important, and studies such as these, to investigate the question of dosage (that is, how much of a treatment is needed for effective be observed)?
- Why do you think the effects reported in this study occurred?
References (Read Further):
Bolandzadeh, N., Tam, R., Handy, T. C., Nagamatsu, L. S., Hsu, C. L., Davis, J. C., … & Liu‐Ambrose, T. (2015). Resistance Training and White Matter Lesion Progression in Older Women: Exploratory Analysis of a 12‐Month Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Cotman, C. W., Berchtold, N. C., & Christie, L. A. (2007). Exercise builds brain health: key roles of growth factor cascades and inflammation. Trends in neurosciences, 30(9), 464-472.
Erickson, K. (2015). Effects of exercise on the hippocampus and memory in older adults. In Proceedings of The Physiological Society. The Physiological Society.