It seems like there’s always been a bias that people who lift weights are dumb. There is a cliche image of big, musclebound lugs who have trouble constructing a sentence. While I’ve certainly seen my share of guys who can’t seem to understand complexity in the area of strength and fitness, I suspect I’d find the same proportion of them when discussing politics or philosophy. Nevertheless, I have written a few hundred articles with the closing salutation, Train With Your Brain, in an effort to push back against the tendency – however statistically common – of weightlifters to resort to trite macho bromides in place of well reasoned and engineered workouts. But it turns out I perhaps should have been saying, Train For Your Brain.
Three interesting studies on the subject of resistance exercise and brain function reveal cognitive benefits for weightlifters.
How Do You Get a Mouse to Pump Iron?
In a study in Brazil mice had weights tied to their tails and were made to climb ladders five times a week. They were compared to other mice who ran on treadmills or who just sat around doing neither. The weightlifting mice had the same increase in beneficial brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is believed to assist in neurogenesis, or ‘brain building.’
Another study in Japan put mice on running wheels that were loaded up with resistance up to 30% of bodyweight. These mice packed on some muscle mass over a month of training. They also exhibited a spike in BDNF, thus improving their brains. The researchers speculated that heavy resistance training could provide the same or better cognitive benefits as endurance exercise does. To my ear, that’s a big win since endurance exercise is notorious for wear and tear on the body and strength training can be very brief and very infrequent.
Would This Apply to Humans?
Test with mice are interesting to read about, but how much of this transfers to us? Well, a Canadian study of 86 elderly women put them in three groups. One group performing weightlifting workout, one walked outdoor in an aerobics program and the third group did ‘balance and toning’ exercises. The weightlifting group achieved significant cognitive improvement compared to both other groups.
The truth is the very best medical minds still have no idea what the totality of proteins, enzymes, hormones and blood gases are doing in your muscles and brain when you pump iron or run a mile. But as science slowly peeks behind the curtain we continue to see many positive benefits for lifting heavy weights. In a world of Western demographic aging that’s some very good news indeed. And even a bonehead weightlifter should understand that. Haha!
What do you think? (comment below)
Train For Your Brain,