Lifting weights is a common way to prepare for a fight, so why would the fight against dementia be any different? Evidence continues to surface that strength training, more so than memory training or diet, can help in the quest to protect your mind against dementia.
Study Assesses Correlation of Strength Training and Dementia Risk
A study led by researchers at the University of Sydney aimed to discover what effect weight training can have on people with mild cognitive impairment. According to the Mayo Clinic, mild cognitive impairment is defined as “the stage between the expected decline in memory and thinking that happens with age and the more serious decline of dementia. MCI may include problems with memory, language or judgment. People with MCI may be aware that their memory or mental function has ‘slipped.’”
Simply put: people with MCI are at a higher risk of dementia.
Participants in the study were randomly selected to do strength training, computerized brain training, and computerized and strength training together. The team then conducted MRI brain scans of the participants three times over 18 months.
Does Lifting Weights Actually Help?
The study, published in NeuroImage: Clinical in 2020, found that strength training does help protect various regions of the hippocampus from degeneration. The study focused on hippocampus subregions that were particularly vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease. In participants who undertook no strength training, the hippocampal subregions shrunk by 3-4% over 18 months. Those who did strength training saw only 1-2% reductions, if any at all.
“Our research shows that strength training can protect some hippocampal subregions from degeneration or shrinkage for up to 12-months after the training has stopped,” said Dr. Kathryn Broadhouse, a lead author on the study.
Professor Michael Valenzuela, leader of the Regenerative Neuroscience Group at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre, went so far as to say that this is the first time any intervention has been discovered that can slow or halt degeneration in the areas of the brain vulnerable to dementia. “Resistance exercise needs to become a standard part of dementia risk-reduction strategies,” he said.
What Type of Exercise Should You Do?
Lifting weights, strength training and resistance exercise are all related categories of exercise that can help with dementia. Matthew D. Campbell Ph.D. and Zoe H. Rutherford Ph.D. stated that resistance training is “primarily designed to improve muscle fitness by exercising a muscle or a muscle group against external resistance (such as free weights, weight machines, body weight, elastic tubing, medicine balls, or even common household products).”
With that in mind, the sky is the limit. You can lift weights, do push-ups, curl cans of soup, or squat a log. The most important thing to remember is that safety is key. Do your research to ensure that you’re using proper posture when engaging your muscles in resistance exercises.