Pumping Iron Boots Brain Function

Studies show that seniors can benefit not only physically but also cognitively from strength training, even into old age. Research from the University of British Columbia Physical Therapy Department finds that lifting weights can increase “executive brain function”.  The ability to complete multiple tasks is boosted by weight training while aerobic exercise has been found to aid in memory activities such as repeating a list of words backwards.

Although older people do not gain muscle mass as quickly as a younger adult, weight training is important in old age to maintain bone mass and increase or maintain joint flexibility. While the gain may not be as fast in old age as in youth, a healthy person over 60 can gain 2 to 3 pounds of muscle in a year and the hike in quality of life may be greater.  In addition to physical health, research has shown resistance training also slows the decline of seniors with dementia.

The changes in activity in the brain’s cortex associated with cognitive behavior was measured in the study through MRIs and the subjects who performed strength training showed significant improvement. It is believed that because this type of exercise requires a great deal of mental focus, resistance training increases brain activity. Attention must be paid to maintaining good form, counting repetitions and controlling breathing. Aerobic activities such as walking require less mental engagement and come more naturally.

Tips for Safe Weight Training

  • Use machines in early stages to prevent injury
  • Work with a trainer to ensure proper form
  • Modify workouts with a trainer for any injuries
  • Eat lean protein throughout the day (about 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight)
  • Train two to three days per week with a rest in between