Could weight training really help avoid Alzheimer's and dementia?

A recent trial led by the University of Sydney in collaboration with the Centre for Healthy Brain Aging at UNSW and the University of Adelaide found increased muscle strength led to improved brain function in adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which increases a person's chances of developing Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

The study (1) examined 100 adults living with MCI and found that those who underwent progressive resistance training experienced improved brain function. The research included 100 people aged 55 to 86. All had mild memory and thinking problems (mild cognitive impairment). The participants who engaged in weight training twice a week for six months to at least 80% of their maximum strength showed significant improvements in mental function.

For some time it's been well known that exercise, and specifically weight training, makes your body stronger and healthier. People who participate in a moderate to high-intensity exercise program several times a week report many health benefits including a reduction in chronic health conditions, relief from common aches and pains, increased energy, a more positive outlook on life, and help with fighting the early signs of aging.

So now researchers have now added improved brain functioning for adults who suffer from MCI to that list. With 47 million people suffering from dementia worldwide, the study's findings, (which are published in the Journal of American Geriatrics today), gives hope to the millions who are facing a life of memory loss.

MCI is an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more-serious decline of dementia. It can involve problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes.

Researchers ultimately discovered that building up muscle strength helps to improve brain function in adults over the age of 55 with MCI. The stronger the participants became, the greater the benefit for their brain, they added. And one of the best parts about this study; the benefits lasted for at least a year after their supervised weight-lifting sessions ended.

"The more we can get people doing resistance training like weightlifting, the more likely we are to have a healthier aging population," explains Yorgi Mavros from the Faculty of Health Sciences in University of Sydney.

However, the benefits of weight training are only as good as the effort and consistency that is put forth by the individual. The key to seeing the dramatic results identified in the study, is to make sure you are participating in a weight training programme at least twice a week, and at a high intensity, so that you are maximising your strength gains. This will give you the maximum benefit for your brain.

References:

1. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1111/jgs.14542/abstract