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Resistance Training for the Brain

Biweekly Weight Lifting May Slow Brain Aging 

If you thought lifting weights was just for gym rats and jocks, think again. People of all genders, sizes and ages can enjoy the benefits of lifting weights, which extend well beyond building muscle and strength. Biweekly resistance training may help slow the effects of aging in the brain, according to Canadian research. 

For the year-long study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 42 Canadian women aged 65 to 75 years were divided into three groups. One group did resistance training once per week. Another group did resistance training twice per week, and the last group did twice-weekly balance and tone classes. One month before starting and at the end of the trial, participants underwent MRIs to detect white matter lesions (WML), markers of damage to the brain. By the end of the study, those who went to one-hour resistance training classes twice per week had significantly less white matter lesion volume than the balance and tone group. 

WML, common in about 85% of older adults, can increase risk of dementia and falls and be detrimental to quality of life. Diabetes, hypertension, and poor cardiovascular health are risk factors for WML, thus resistance training may be a promising strategy for keeping WML at bay by supporting overall health. 

Strength training throughout adulthood and your golden years has ample benefits to health. A study from Spain found people over 90 who exercised with weights twice per week had an easier time walking and standing up, and had no falls after three months. A review in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine links strength training to reductions in anxiety, fatigue, pain intensity, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, and improvements in cognition, sleep quality and self-esteem. 

Not sure where to begin? Consult a trainer at your local gym, or invest in some free weights and follow exercise DVDs or online tutorials at home. Speak with your physician before beginning any new exercise routine.

Published April 1, 2016

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