Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, I used to end articles I’d written for health and fitness magazines with a simple statement: “Train with your brain.” Simply put, you need to be smart with your exercise. Twenty-plus years later, I have changed that statement to read “Train for your brain.”
It is concerning seeing and reading about the large number of people in our country suffering with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI is not as serious as actual dementia, but it can make things difficult and greatly affect quality of life. MCI is a strong predictor of future full-blown dementia. Increasing muscle strength through weightlifting (resistance training) improves cognitive function and may be a powerful tool in preventing dementia.
In the Journal of American Geriatrics, a study was reported on a group of patients age 55 to 68, suffering with mild cognitive impairment. They were divided into four groups and assigned different activities: weightlifting, seated stretching exercises, real cognitive training on a computer or placebo training on a computer. The weightlifting trial lasted six months, with exercising done twice a week. As the participants got stronger, they increased the amount of weight for each exercise. The exercises were done while trying to maintain 80 percent or greater at their peak strength. Of these interventions, only the weightlifting activity demonstrated an improvement in brain function.
Also of great interest was the fact that the stronger the muscles got, the better the mental improvement was. This indicates the need not only to lift weights, but to push it to your limits.
Many of our local health clubs and gyms have trainers and instructors who can help you safely and effectively train for your brain. Not only does resistance training increase your ability to function independently as you get older by keeping you moving and active, it keeps your brain healthy and free of cognitive decline.
Of all the health-related activities you could take on, pushing yourself with weightlifting two or three times a week can really optimize your quality of life. Train for your brain!
Dr. Warren Willey is a Pocatello physician. Visit his website at drwilley.com.