The Targeted Exercise Plan That Improves Mental Functioning

You already know that exercise is good for you. It reduces your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer… the list goes on. Research continues to confirm the health benefits of exercise.

But here’s something you may not know…

You can add improved brain health to the list of reasons to hit the gym or pavement. A new study shows that resistance exercise improves cognitive function. That includes memory, problem solving, decision making, and the ability to concentrate.

The study even shows that strength training can reverse memory decline. This gives new hope to those suffering with the onset of dementia. Teresa Liu-Ambrose led the study from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada. She published her findings in the Archives of Internal Medicine.1

“There is much debate as to whether cognitive function can be improved once there is noticeable impairment,” said Liu-Ambrose. “What our results show is that resistance training can improve both your cognitive performance and your brain function.”

Strengthening the Study

Researchers studied women between the ages of 70 and 80 who had mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI is a condition where people experience loss of memory and other brain functions. It is not a debilitating condition.2 But people with MCI run a higher risk of developing dementia.

And according to Liu-Ambrose, “MCI is a critical window to intervene against dementia.”

For the study, the women were divided into three groups. One group engaged in resistance or “strength” training. The other two groups engaged in aerobic exercise or balance and muscle toning. The women trained twice a week for six months.

All three groups experienced benefits. But only one group achieved significant cognitive improvements.

The resistance training group showed dramatic improvement in selective attention and conflict resolution. They performed better on memory tasks. And MRI tests showed increased blood flow to the key areas of the brain related to the performance improvements. The resistance training group showed functional changes in three brain regions used for memory.3

An earlier study by Liu-Ambrose showed the same thing.  This one spanned 12 months. Women trained once or twice a week.4 Again, resistance training provided lasting benefits. Those who underwent resistance exercise did better on memory and cognitive tests.

Dr. William Thies of the Alzheimer’s Association, confirms the findings. “These latest studies show that resistance training is emerging as particularly valuable for older adults,” he said.

And these aren’t the only studies that show exercise can bolster memory and cognition…

Researchers at the University of Illinois studied mice to show how exercise can strengthen the brain.

They divided the mice into four different groups. Two of the groups were given wheels for exercise. The results showed that the mice that exercised the most produced nearly twice as many new brain neurons as the mice that exercised the least.5

And now these findings are more important than ever. Dementia is on the rise. Worldwide, one new case is detected every second.

These studies show that one of the most effective ways to reduce your risk is to engage in physical activity. And when it comes to brain health, they clearly show that the best form of activity is that which builds muscle strength and endurance.

But “resistance training” doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym and start bench pressing. Repetitive exercises that isolate individual muscles put unnatural strain on your body. This invites injury and it does not build “functional” strength.

You build functional strength by mimicking the actions you perform on a daily basis. If you do enjoy working out in a gym or using weights, focus on compound movements that work multiple joints and muscle groups at the same time. This is a safer way to exercise. And it builds the kind of strength and flexibility that you can use in your daily life.

It is also more time efficient. With as few as two or three of the right exercises you can get life-changing benefits in just minutes each day.

You don’t need a pile of weights to get results. And you can even do it from home.  Resistance bands are a cheap and easy way to get an effective resistance workout. You could take a brisk walk with hand weights. Pilates and certain martial arts will also build muscle and functional strength.

And don’t forget gravity and the weight of your own body. You can build significant strength and endurance with just a few simple exercises like bodyweight squats, lunges, planks, push-ups, and pull-ups. No gym necessary.

Exercise will strengthen your heart and lungs. It will make you stronger and more confident. It will make you feel better and look better. And it could even make you smarter!

Editor’s Note: Memory loss is just one more thing we have to worry about as we get older. But recent studies show that the symptoms of aging are just like any others. They can be treated or eliminated. Go here to discover specific ways you can stop the clock – and even turn it back.


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Health Topic: Alzheimer's and Memory | Cognitive Health


  1. Great coverage of this study. I saw it too and immediately talked to my mother struggling with dementia about it. While exercise has been known for a while to help w/ brain health – it’s important that this study honed in on what specific kind of exercise.

    I’ve written about this and other research on exercise and brain health here:

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