University of Sydney researchers, led by Dr Mavros, from the Faculty of Health Sciences have published ground-breaking findings into the benefits of strength training to the brain. They found strength or resistance training can improve brain function, along with the known benefits to physical (muscular) strength. Recent research has demonstrated the positive impacts that healthy muscles have on ageing, weight management and as a defence against many disease/conditions including diabetes, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. But this is the first study to demonstrate the link to the brain or mental benefits.
The study of 100 adults ranged from 55 to 80 years. They did a resistance training session twice a week for six months. At the beginning and end they were scored on cognitive tests. The findings showed significant improvements in their cognitive (brain) function- which were still present six months after the study was completed. Researchers found the improvement in brain function (mental) was related to their strength gains (physical) i.e. the stronger they became the greater the benefits for the brain. The lead researcher, Dr Mavros commented, “older adults lose muscle mass and muscle strength. If we can improve these we might also improve brain function.”
This benefit differs (and is not present) from those returned by other forms of exercise and activity eg swimming, walking, running or cycling. The driver behind the strength training benefits seems to be linked to the increased levels of hormones the body produces.
Researchers also emphasised that WHAT is done is as important as how OFTEN; “weight training can be done effectively (and safely) or done poorly. Our participants were supervised and trained at 80% of their maximum intensity.” This included the oldest people in the study at 80 years - so even if the load may have differed between individuals; the relative intensity was still high. “If you want changes (by adaptation) to the body and the brain, you need to train at a moderate to high intensity. Even people with advanced conditions can achieve benefits. For any chronic condition you are likely to see a return. It is never too late or too old to start”.
An earlier 2016 survey found that 90% of all Australians do not meet the recommended guidelines for strength training as part of their weekly exercise needs. This study might help a few more people lift, pull and push each week!
Take Away Tips
Twice a week (around 15-30 minutes total)
Intensity of around 80%
Be consistent - adhere for a minimum of 3 months
Strength training can include:
Weights- dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells
Resistance band or straps
Sarah Berry Daily Life SMH.com October 2016
Dr Yorgi Mavros Faculty of Health Sciences University of Sydney