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Strength Training for Brain Fitness

Lots of research has shown that aerobic fitness may be a key to brain fitness. Now a new study suggests that strength training may be helpful, too.

A recent study in the Archives of Neurology shows that muscle strength is related to risk for Alzheimer’s disease. In a group of persons with an average age of 80 years, those with the greatest muscle strength had the lowest chance of developing Alzheimer’s over up to six years. About one in five of the people with the lowest muscle strength (the lowest 10%) developed Alzheimer’s disease over the study follow up, while fewer than one in ten of those with the greatest strength (the highest 10%) developed Alzheimer’s in the same time – about half the risk.

Does this mean that weight training will keep you from getting Alzheimer’s or other memory problems? It’s not clear. Endurance training has been shown to increase brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor (BDNF), a substance that facilitates the growth of new nerve cells in the brain. This increase in BDNF may be part of the reason why exercise improves cognition. But a recent study of weight training with middle-aged men and women didn’t show any change in BDNF with weight training.

Given the association of mood, cognition, and loss of muscle tissue in frailty (see another blog post about frailty here), though, maintaining muscle mass through weight training may be an important way to maintain and improve physical and cognitive functioning.


Boyle PA, et al. (2009). Association of muscle strength with the risk of Alzheimer disease and rate of cognitive decline in community-dwelling older persons. Archives of Neurology, 66, 1339-1344.

Levinger I, et al. (2008). BDNF, metabolic risk factors, and resistance training in middle-aged individuals. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 40, 535-541.

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