Engaging in regular weightlifting could actually make your brain work better and prevent dementia, concludes new research by Australian scientists.
A group of people aged 55 to 86 with ‘mild cognitive impairment’, a precursor of Alzheimer’s disease, were asked to carry out a mix of weight lifting and brain training.
While it is unclear whether this would apply more widely, the researchers said they had found a causal link between an increase in strength and better functioning of the participants’ brains.
With 135 million people forecast to suffer from dementia globally by 2050, researchers say their findings have implications for the type and intensity of exercise that is recommended for the growing ageing population.
MCI defines people who have noticeably reduced cognitive abilities such as poorer memory, but are still able to live independently.
The weight training program involved lifting weights that were 80 per cent as heavy as the maximum the participants were able to lift twice a week for six months. This is similar to training regimes used by athletes.
As they got stronger, the amount of weight they lifted was increased to keep to the 80 per cent level.
MRI scans revealed that specific areas of the brain increased in size among those who took part.
'The more we can get people doing resistance training like weight lifting, the more likely we are to have a healthier ageing population. The key however is to make sure you are doing it frequently, at least twice a week, and at a high intensity so that you are maximizing your strength gains. This will give you the maximum benefit for your brain.'
Professor Maria Fiatarone Singh, a geriatrician at Sydney University who took part in the research, said the “next step” was to work out if the increase in muscle strength was directly related to the increase in brain size.
“In addition, we want to find the underlying messenger that links muscle strength, brain growth, and cognitive performance, and determine the optimal way to prescribe exercise to maximize these effects.” she said.
Not everyone with mild cognitive impairment will go on develop dementia, and it is not yet clear whether weight training could prevent dementia or help those who already have the condition. However, it seems quite obvious that the best way to reduce your risk of developing dementia is a combination of taking regular exercise, not smoking and eating a healthy, balanced diet.