Lifters Rejoice: Strength Training Does The Brain Good

We’re well aware of the physical benefits exercise offers us. Strength training improves our muscular base, enhances our posture, creates stronger bones, and improves joint health. Cardiovascular training improves our ability to use oxygen effectively, promotes better circulation, and improves our energy levels. Although, what about strength training and brain health? A recent study published discussed the positives resistance training has on brain health.

This study followed 100 subjects, age 55 and over, through a resistance training program that required 80 percent of their peak strength. These 100 subjects were classified to have mild cognitive impairment (MCI) – which is classified as: Noticeable daily mental difficulties, but not large enough difficulties to prevent regular functioning. While further research is needed on this topic, this is one of the first studies to specifically look at heavy resistance training and cognitive benefits.

To give context on MCI, around 80 percent of subjects with positive MCI diagnosis develop Alzheimer’s approximately 6 years after original diagnosis. That’s a scary stat, especially for folks like myself with Alzheimer’s running in their family.

Grandpa

Family photo from 2005 of my grandpa (who passed in 2009 from Alzheimer’s), my little brother, & myself. 

Researchers split the 100 subjects into four groups: resistance training, placebo resistance (stretching), cognitive training, and a placebo equivalent. Resistance training was performed twice a week for 6-months, weights used were increased to 80 percent of subject’s peak strength as muscle increased. They found that the resistance training group had a positive relationship with global cognition. Previous research has found that exercise helps preserve, and enlarge areas of the brain often related to diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This is promising data suggesting the benefit of resistance training and healthy aging of the brain. Researchers also pointed out – to receive the strength training brain benefit – there has to be consistency in training, along with the intensity to match the demands of 80 percent of peak strength.

The Bigger Picture

Yes, this study looked at an older population, but it also gave us valuable insight we can implicate in our training right now. Consistency and progression are key. All of the time you spend training has a pay off; it’s creating a healthier future you. And training goes so much deeper than physical benefits.

1. It creates relationships around you. Your training partners and competitors become a community around you that can offer support.

2. Training creates mental toughness. You learn to set goals, be patient, have discipline, and much more.

3. We learn about ourselves and build self-esteem. When we strength train consistently we’re constantly breaking barriers and reaching new emotional, mental, and physical levels we wouldn’t have found otherwise.

So the next time you’re in the gym – even if your mind isn’t fully there – be grateful for your health and the people around you.

Jake Boly

Jake Boly

Jake holds a Master's in Sports Science and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as the Fitness and Training Editor at BarBend.

He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has spoken at state conferences on the topics of writing in the fitness industry and building a brand.

As of right now, Jake has published over 1,200 articles related to strength athletes and sports. Articles about powerlifting concepts, advanced strength & conditioning methods, and topics that sit atop a strong science foundation are Jake's bread-and-butter.

On top of his personal writing, Jake edits and plans content for 15 writers and strength coaches who come from every strength sport.

Prior to BarBend, Jake worked for two years as a strength and conditioning coach for hockey and lacrosse players, and a personal trainer the three years before that, and most recently he was the content writer at The Vitamin Shoppe's corporate office.

Jake competes in powerlifting in the 181 lb weight class, and considers himself a professional knee rehabber after tearing his quad squatting in 2017. On the side of writing full time, Jake works as a part-time strength coach and works with clients through his personal business Concrete Athletics in New York City.

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