A new study indicates that lifting weights twice a week helps to combat a decline in brain health, particularly in women.
A lot of past studies have explored the beneficial impact of physical activity such as running, walking, and aerobics on the body, but few have looked at lifting weights.
This was noticed by Teresa Liu-Ambrose, director of the Aging, Mobility and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. She and her team sought to find out what sport would be beneficial for white matter (a type of central nervous system tissue which makes up the inner part of the brain).
As we age, this part of the brain is particularly susceptible to lesions (meaning holes), which initially are asymptomatic, but can be seen in brain scans, and can cause problems with memory and thinking skills.
Previous neurological studies have demonstrated a link between a large number of white matter lesions and the emergence of cognitive problems.
According to the New York Times, Dr Liu-Ambrose and her team studied the impact of lifting weights, which strengthens and builds muscles. As in the brain, muscles tend to weaken and shrink with age, affecting movement, particularly walking. The researchers sought to verify if lifting weights could change this process and play a positive role in the decline of the brain's capabilities.
Around 155 women aged between 65 and 75 were followed for 52 weeks. They were already enrolled in a neuroscientific study and had had at least one brain scan.
The volunteers were randomly assigned to three groups after having been tested on their walking speed and stability. A first group followed a once-weekly light program of upper and lower body weight training. The second group did the same, but twice a week. The last group, acting as a control, did stretching and balance exercises. All the participants did this for a year.
The findings, which were published in October edition of The Journal of The American Geriatrics Society, indicated that the women in the control group showed a significant increase in the number of white matter lesions. The same was true of the women who trained once a week.
In contrast, the scans of the participants who lifted weights twice a week showed less shrinkage of their white matter.
This study suggests that lifting weights can have a positive impact on the structure of the brain but Dr Liu-Ambrose says that "a minimum threshold of exercise needs to be achieved," noted the NYTimes.