Study: Strong muscles, strong mind



Increasing your muscle strength may have more benefits than looking good in your cycling shorts and getting up the stairs less out of breath… increased muscle strength leads to improved brain function in adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), results from a recent trial led by the University of Sydney have revealed.


MCI refers to significantly reduced cognitive abilities such as in memory, language, thinking and judgment greater than the usual age-related decline, and is often a precursor to the more-serious decline of dementia.


The 100 research participants were between the ages of 55 and 86, and were divided into four groups:

• Resistance exercise and computerised cognitive training;

• Resistance exercise and a placebo computerised training (watching nature videos);

• Brain training and a placebo exercise program (seated stretching/calisthenics); or

• Placebo physical exercise and placebo cognitive training.


Those who partook in the resistance training completed prescribed weight lifting sessions twice a week for six months, working to at least 80 per cent of their peak strength. These participants saw significant improvements in mental function and, as a bonus, the benefits lasted for at least a year after their supervised weight-lifting sessions ended. 


Regular weight lifting exercise improved cognitive ability in adults with MCI.
Regular weight lifting exercise improved cognitive ability in adults with MCI.


This means that, for the first time, findings show a positive causal link between muscle adaptations to progressive resistance training and the functioning of the brain among those over 55 with MCI. “What we found in this follow-up study is that the improvement in cognition [mental] function was related to their muscle strength gains,” said study lead author Yorgi Mavros, of the faculty of health sciences at the University of Sydney, Australia. “The stronger people became, the greater the benefit for their brain,” Mavros added in a university news release.


Research has predicted that an approximate 135 million people will suffer from dementia by 2050, which means the results of the study are significant in terms of helping us prepare for a ripe – and healthy – old age. “The more we can get people doing resistance training like weight lifting, the more likely we are to have a healthier ageing population,” said Dr Mavros.