We know that you know the benefits of exercise: it can improve your mood, help you sleep better, and help you maintain cardiovascular health. But what we don’t talk about enough is the impact of exercise on the brain. Targeted exercise does wonders for brain health. You might be thinking, ““I jog regularly…isn’t that good enough?” It’s definitely a great start. Jogging is great for cardiovascular health, so keep it up. However, it is the combination of resistance training and aerobic exercise that has the strongest effect on cognition (1).
Resistance training is exercise in which one’s muscles are moving against a type of weight. The weight can be from standard weights, resistance bands, or simply one’s own body weight. This type of exercise should not be confused with cardiovascular exercise in which the muscles are not pushing or resisting weight. Multiple studies have shown that resistance training has positive effects on cognitive function among older adult populations (2). Specifically, that resistance training in the older adult population of two times per week showed improvements in executive function such as planning, problem solving, task coordination, and working memory, and resistance training of three times per week showed improvements in global cognitive function (2).
The benefits of resistance training are seen in particular among older adults with cognitive impairment (2). While more research is still needed, there are many biochemical changes occurring during resistance training that may account for this improvement in cognitive function. For instance, resistance training in older adults was shown to decrease biomarkers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein and Interleukin-6 (3). As inflammation is a major contributor to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, a reduction in inflammatory markers in the blood is health promoting and brain protective. Additionally, resistance training has been shown to result in increases in IGF-1, a growth and development hormone (1). IGF-1 increases concentrations of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). BDNF is a brain growth factor that acts like ‘Miracle-Gro’ for the brain- promoting the production of new brain cells and synapses.
Resistance training will also help cognition in individuals that carry one or two of the ApoE4 variants. Apolipoprotein E (ApoE) is a plasma protein found in different isoforms (e2, e3, and e4) (4). ApoE4 has been linked to cognitive impairment and is at this time the strongest known genetic determinant of late onset Alzheimer’s disease. The ApoE4 variant promotes production of beta amyloid plaques in the brain that destroy healthy brain cells and inhibit synapses (5). The combination of a sedentary lifestyle and carrying ApoE4 has shown to put individuals at risk for amyloid plaque deposition (6). Beyond the incredible impact of general exercise on cognition, resistance training can help individuals achieve a state of mild ketosis, and mild ketosis is advantageous for ApoE4 carriers.
Now, you don’t need to start training for the next Iron Man in South Africa to get the benefits of resistance training, but you should add resistance training into your routine.
Here is a quick 10 minute resistance training workout you can do inside your home, at a park, or in your backyard! No weights required, only your own body weight. Find a workout partner or play some of your favorite music to pump up your energy! And of course, check with your doctor before getting started to make sure that it is safe for you to do these types of exercises.
This circuit should be repeated 2-3 times, 4 times a week, or at a level that you feel comfortable and safe with.
When you finish your 2-3 reps please make sure you stretch your muscles for safe healing and recovery.