Strength training can fix age-related ‘potholes’ in the brain’s highways

Strength training helps prevent age-related deterioration in parts of the brain, Canadian researchers have shown.

Exercise is known to maintain memory and brain function needed to solve problems and make decisions. Now researchers are learning how it can also slow the progression of disease in the brain as you age.

Older women randomly assigned to strength training for an hour, twice a week, showed significantly less white matter shrinkage in their brains than their counterparts who spent the same amount of time focusing on balance and strength. flexibility.

These white matter lesions are like potholes that can compromise the ability of messages to travel quickly.

At first, the lesions do not affect memory or thinking. But if the lesions grow and deepen throughout the brain, there may be a disability, said Teresa Liu-Ambrose of the University of British Columbia’s department of physical therapy.

Liu-Ambrose led the small randomized trial studying different types of exercise in 155 healthy women between the ages of 65 and 75.

Teresa Liu-Ambrose found differences in the progression of white matter damage in women who did resistance training compared to balance exercises. (Radio Canada)

Investigators focused on 54 participants with some degree of white matter damage. They underwent either a year of upper and lower body strength training with increasing loads or stretching and balance training as a control group.

The message that upper-body strength training can have positive results for the brain is important, doctors say. (Radio Canada)

Researchers are able to follow the progression of white matter damage using MRI, magnetic resonance imaging. And scientists expected these brain damage to expand or spread over time.

“What we found was that in people who participated in resistance training twice a week, their volume remained essentially unchanged over time. And that’s pretty critical,” Liu-Ambrose said.

“In comparison, those in the balance and tone group actually increased, so lesions or disease spread to more of the white matter.”

walking speed

The researchers also studied the participants’ walking speed, as walking often slows about 10 years before cognitive impairment. It is increasingly recognized that physical mobility and cognition or brain health share strong links.

In the study, those who did strength training also maintained their walking speed.

“Our study really demonstrates that exercise has a benefit,” Liu-Ambrose said. “It benefits people who already have this condition.”

Joyce Mar, 76, was one of the participants. The study motivated her to exercise more.

“Take your butt to the gym and get moving,” Mar suggested. “It really makes a difference. I can move quite well for my age.”

Dr. William Reichman, a geriatric mental health specialist at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto, was not involved in the research. But he praised the results, especially for those struggling to get their heart rate up due to arthritis or limitations such as heart disease.

“The message that upper-body weight training can achieve positive brain results is really important as an alternative to lower-body dependent exercise,” Reichman said in an email.

The study was published in October in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation is funding Liu-Ambrose’s largest trial, which is expected to begin in January. It aims to determine if investigators can see the same response in a larger group of older adults with early white matter pathology.

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