While most of the research connecting brain health to physical exercise has focused on cardiovascular conditioning, newer studies suggest that lifting weights or resistance training also supports better mental health.
Scientists in Brazil performed animal studies demonstrating that strength training and aerobic conditioning improve learning abilities and recall.
The animals demonstrated increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that is linked to lower risk of dementia and better brain cell growth.
Other investigators in Japan corroborated these studies and showed that resistance training actually caused the animals’ DNA to produce BDNF.
These studies indicate that building muscle strength leads brain cells to perform gene expression, which is the process by which information contained within the gene is used to synthesize genetic products such as proteins.
Scientists have confirmed that strength training is good for humans as well. Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose at the University of British Columbia demonstrated that women who lifted weights showed improved mental function when compared with control subjects.
Benefits were also shown for reasoning and attention skills, which are controlled by the frontal lobe — our “thinking brain.”
How does strength training improve our mental health?
Some scientists speculate that our need to attend to form and technique while strength training provides an additional cognitive challenge that further bolsters our neurons.
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