Strength training can improve brain health. . . at least in rats

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Strength training may have beneficial effects on brain health, at least in rats. When rats lift weights, they gain strength and also alter the cellular environment inside their brains, improving their ability to think, according to a notable new study on resistance training, rodents and how they work. their mind.

The study finds that strength training, performed in rodents with scales and tiny weights taped on, can reduce or even reverse aspects of age-related memory loss. The discovery may have important brain health implications for those of us who aren’t literally gym rats.

Most of us discover in middle age, to our dismay, that the brain changes with age and thinking skills decline. Familiar names, words, and the current location of our house keys are starting to escape us.

But a host of useful previous research indicates that regular aerobic exercise, such as walking or jogging, can strengthen memory and cognition. In these studies, which involved people and animals, aerobic exercise generally increases the number of new neurons created in the brain’s memory center and also reduces inflammation. Left unchecked, inflammation in the brain can contribute to the development of dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.

However, much less is known about whether and how resistance training affects the brain. A few studies with older people have linked strength training to improved cognition, but the studies have been small and the links tenuous. While researchers know that lifting weights builds muscle, it’s not yet clear how, at the molecular level, it would affect brain cells and functions.

So, for the new study, which was published this summer in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Taylor Kelty, a doctoral student at the University of Missouri in Colombia, began to consider rats and scales. He and his collaborators knew that to closely study the brain changes associated with resistance training, they would have to get animals to lift weights.

But how?

Kelty’s solution, a modification of methods used in some earlier studies, involved a 100-cm-long ladder and bags of weighted pellets gently glued to the rats’ hind ends. The animals were given a Froot Loop when they reached the top of the ladder and quickly began to climb voluntarily, even without rewards. After several weeks, the climbers showed an increase in muscle mass, indicating that the activity was effective strength training.

Effects on the brain

Then, to test the cerebral effects of the training, Kelty and his colleagues injected a separate group of animals with a substance known to induce inflammation in the brain, creating a form of mild cognitive impairment or dementia premature in rodents. .

Half of these rats then began a weekly weight training program. As the climbing got easier, the mass of the pellets in their bags increased, just as people gradually increased the weight they lifted in the gyms.

After five weeks, all animals, including an intact control group, were individually released into a brightly lit maze with a single dark chamber. Rodents gravitate to dark places and on repeated visits to the maze animals should learn the location and aim for this chamber.

But their success differs. In early tests, control animals were the fastest and most accurate, and rodents with mild cognitive impairment faltered. With a little practice, however, the weight-trained animals, despite their induced cognitive impairments, caught up with and in some cases exceeded the speed and accuracy of witnesses.

Strength training had “effectively restored” their ability to think, Kelty said.

Untrained animals with mild cognitive impairment, on the other hand, continued to lag far behind others in their ability to find and remember the room.

Finally, to better understand how climbing ladders could have changed the brains and minds of rats, Kelty and colleagues examined brain tissue from each of the groups under a microscope. As expected, they found signs of inflammation in the brains of animals that had been injected.

But they also found that the brain’s memory centers in weight training machines are now teeming with enzymes and genetic markers known to help kickstart the creation and survival of new neurons, while also increasing plasticity, which is the ability of the brain. brain to reshape.

This is because the brains of the weight-trained rats reconstituted themselves to resemble those of brains that had not been inflamed and altered.

Of course, this was a study in rats, and rats are not humans. We rarely train by climbing ladders with heavy bags strapped to our rears, on the one hand. Thus, it is impossible to know from this experience whether our brain will react in the same way to lifting weights.

The study also cannot tell us whether aerobic exercise causes similar, different, or complementary molecular changes in our brains, or whether healthy people get the same benefits as people with disabilities.

But the results are suggestive, Kelty said.

“I think it’s safe to say that people should consider doing resistance training,” he said. “It’s good for you for all kinds of other reasons, and it seems to be neuroprotective. And who doesn’t want a healthy brain? – New York Times

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