There are various ways that strength training supports men’s brain health. According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, strength training, such as that gotten from weight lifting, can improve cognitive function in men as they age.
The Brain And Muscle Connection
Muscle mass in men tends to decline as a man ages. Cognitive function tends to decline as a man ages as well. Rather than shrinking like muscle, however, the brains of men develop small holes in the white matter of the brain, referred to as “lesions.” This can affect the way the various parts of the brain interact with one another.
These types of brain lesions are typical in the late middle age years. At that point in time, most people don’t notice anything in the way of cognitive decline, even when the lesions are visible on the man’s brain scan. As the lesions start to accumulate in the brain over the years, they get even bigger. Ultimately, this might lead to a decrease in cognition as a man ages.
According to the research, exercise can help the brain be healthier. There is one study that revealed that moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking or jogging, increased the amount of gray matter in the brain. However, exercise didn’t alter the size or number of lesions in the white matter. Still another study showed that there was no connection at all between the degree that a man exercises and the number of lesions and cognitive decline suffered by men as they age.
In the main study described above, scientists working out of the University of British Columbia, located in Vancouver, British Columbia, looked at the role that strength and resistance training had on the development of the white matter brain lesions.
They studied 54 individuals between the ages of 65 years and 75 years, all of whom had brain scans showing white matter lesions, through various types of strength training programs, including the following:
Those study participants who did the resistance training took part in lifting free weights and did exercises such as lunges and squats as a part of their training. This built up muscle mass in those participants who especially lifted the free weights.
The study participants did the same exercises each time at a rate of once weekly or twice weekly, depending on what group they were in. Eventually, they worked up to doing two sets of eight repetitions per set. They were allowed to increase the amount of weight they were able to lift as their muscle strength increased and their ability to lift heavier weights improved. They also were allowed to progress in the number and intensity of the squats and lunges they were allowed to do and were encouraged to practice lunge walking.
Subjects were instructed to do the various kinds of exercises for a total of a year. The results were conclusive. Those who did strength training twice per week were found to have a lesser number of white matter lesions in their brain.
This suggested that the activities they did as part of their strength training had an effect on their brain and a resultant improvement in cognition. Of course, this would lead to the hypothesis that strength training supports men’s brain health. The study was performed on women exclusively, but the researchers felt that the same findings would hold true if men were to complete a similar study.
The Conclusion Of The Study
The conclusion of the study researchers was that some type of resistance training may be helpful not only to the cardiovascular system, but to the brain as well. With a reduction in white matter lesions, the cognitive function of the individual doing the strength training would likely be improved by having an increase in muscle mass.