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Pumping iron as good for the brain as the body, B.C. study suggests

Researchers at the University of B.C. find lifting weights twice a week can help slow brain aging in older women.

New research out of UBC suggests light resistance training might slow brain aging in older women.

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New research out of UBC suggests light resistance training might slow brain aging in older women.

Lifting weights to build muscle might boost the ego, but new research from the University of B.C. suggests it may also go to your head.

A new study carried out at the Aging, Mobility, and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at UBC suggests light resistance training might slow brain aging in older women.

While studies have shown aerobic exercise like running to be good for the brain, Teresa Liu-Ambrose, the lab’s director and a professor of physical therapy at UBC, said this is among the first to reveal the benefits of weight training on the brain.

Teresa Liu-Ambrose, director of the Aging, Mobility, and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of B.C., says weight lifting could help slow brain aging in older women.

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Teresa Liu-Ambrose, director of the Aging, Mobility, and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of B.C., says weight lifting could help slow brain aging in older women.

“What’s most exciting is we didn’t expect resistance training to have these types of effects,” she told Metro. "Most people think of running and swimming ... as being good for the brain, but what we are finding is that strength training certainly does have similar benefits."

For the study, which was published this month in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers followed a group of 155 women between the ages of 65 and 75. Among the group, 54 of the women had showed evidence through MRI scans of a type of brain lesion that is a common sign of aging.

For a year, the researchers followed the women while they began three types of exercise routines. One group started lifting weights once a week, while a second group lifted weights twice a week. A third group, which acted as a control, started a stretching and balance training regimen only.

The women’s brains were scanned again at the end of the year, and the results were surprising.

The researchers found that the groups that only stretched and lifted weights once a week showed progression of both the number and size of lesions on their brains. But, among the women who lifted weights twice a week, the researchers found slowed progression of the lesions.

She said the study’s findings help highlight the importance of weight training for older people, not only for their physical health but also their cognitive wellbeing.

“It’s impactful because not everybody does have the ability to partake in aerobic-based exercises like running or swimming, especially among older adults,” she said. “They might have other conditions that reduce their ability to have that mobility, so resistance training can modify it.”

While this study only looked at women, Liu-Ambrose said the team plan on carrying out the same research on men to see how their brains compare.