Dementia is a hot topic in the news as well as research these days for good reason: It is now the fifth-leading cause of death in our nation, killing more people than prostate and breast cancer combined. As the number of Americans with this illness continues to rise and someone in our country develops the disease every 66 seconds, the need for practical ways to tackle the problem is greater than ever. Unfortunately, there is still no cure for dementia, so doing everything you can to prevent it is vital.
As scientists try to learn more about this baffling affliction, new ways of preventing it are beginning to emerge, and now we can add weight training to the list. A Finnish study has revealed a link between better lower and upper body strength and higher levels of cognitive function in older adults.
In the study at the University of Eastern Finland, researchers looked at 338 people who were 66 years old on average. They measured their muscle strength in three lower body exercises – leg presses, leg extensions, and leg flexions – in addition to handgrip strength. They also checked their upper body strength using exercises like seated rows and chest presses. The researchers discovered that everything except for handgrip strength was associated with cognitive function.
The study was published in the journal European Geriatric Medicine, and it supports earlier studies that show the benefits of exercising on brain health. For example, an Australian study found that resistance weight training boosts brain function in seniors who are experiencing mild cognitive impairment. In that study, patients who participated in six months of twice-weekly weight lifting sessions at 80 percent of their peak strength or more noted significant improvements in their global cognition.
Other studies have found exercising four times per week could help reverse dementia when it is in the early stages. People suffering from mild cognitive impairment noted significant brain size increases after a six-month program of exercise. In addition, a Canadian study found that those with sedentary lifestyles have the same risk of getting dementia as those who are born with the gene for Alzheimer’s, which should be motivation enough to get off that couch and pick up some weights. In contrast to cognitive training, weight training can provide cognitive benefits to nearly every area of the brain.
Benefits extend to overall health
The beauty of weight training as a potential way to protect the brain from aging is that it has so many other benefits for your health and your body and very few potential problems if practiced carefully. It can keep your bones healthy and strong, which becomes increasingly important as you age with bone density loss beginning at around age 30. Building strength also helps your body resist diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and Type 2 diabetes. There’s also the fact that it can boost your metabolism and spur fat loss, and it can also help improve your mood, sleep, and levels of energy, all of which can vastly improve your quality of life well into your golden years.
It’s never too late to get started with weight training, and it’s not necessary to go to the gym. You can buy an inexpensive set of weights or even use household objects like cans of food. If you have any type of injury or health problem, it’s a good idea to get help from an expert to determine which moves will help you without causing more damage. Remember to focus on both the upper and lower body if possible using slow and controlled movements. Over time, you’ll find yourself looking forward to weight training because the endorphins it releases make you feel great naturally.