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Strength training for stronger brains

We know that strength training can help older adults improve or maintain good physical health. Did you also know that it may help improve brain health?  

Research has long shown that seniors who include regular (two to three times a week) strength or resistance training in their routine reap a number of physical benefits, including: 

  • stronger muscles
  • increased metabolism and reduced fat
  • reduced risk of diseases, such as osteoporosis, heart disease, arthritis and diabetes
  • improved sleep
  • better balance and flexibility

More recently, scientists have looked at how strength training affects how the brain works, or cognition. As our population ages, the number of people diagnosed with an age-related cognitive-impairment will increase. Nearly five million people in the United States have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease; this number is expected to rise to 16 million by 2050. It's no wonder that researchers have increased their work into different ways to combat these impairments, including the effects of strength training.  

Some studies have found that older adults with little or no cognitive impairment show improved memory, information processing, attention span, planning and organizing skills after participating in a strength training program. Strength training may also reduce depression and anxiety and contribute to sense of well-being. Other studies have looked at adults with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia and found that strength training may help with the symptoms of dementia. While such results are preliminary and further study is needed, they are also encouraging.  

Because of all the benefits of strength training, both physical and mental, it makes sense to add it to your exercise routine. Be sure to talk with your doctor before beginning a new program to address any health concerns. If you don't know where or how to start, talk with your doctor, sign up for a strong and fit class through Allina Health, go online or visit your local fitness center.  

Remember to start slowly. You may want to start by using your own body weight, rather than a dumbbell or other piece of equipment. You'll want to build up to two or three times a week, with rest days in between exercise days. Other important tips include: 

  • Be sure to warm up by walking for at least five minutes before lifting weights.
  • Repeat each series of exercises three times, resting between each set.
  • Remember to breathe during the exercises.
  • Stretch your muscles after you have completed your strength training exercise.

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