People with mild memory loss should start lifting weights to help stave off dementia, a study suggests.
Researchers have found that building up muscle strength helps to improve brain function in adults over the age of 55 with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
People with MCI have a slight but noticeable decline in memory, reasoning and thinking skills and are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and others forms of dementia.
Between 5 and 10 per cent of over-65s in Britain are thought to have the condition and up to 15 per cent of these will develop dementia.
The study published in the Journal of American Geriatrics measured the effect of different exercise programmes on the brain of 100 people aged 55 to 86 with MCI. It found that those who took part in twice-weekly weight-training sessions for six months, in which they were made to work to at least 80 per cent of their peak strength, had significantly improved brain function.
With 135 million people forecast to suffer from dementia by 2050, the researchers say their findings have implications for the type and intensity of exercise that is recommended for the ageing population.
Yorgi Mavros, a research associate at the University of Sydney in Australia, and lead author of the study, said: “What we found is that the improvement in cognition function was related to their muscle strength gains. The stronger people became, the greater the benefit for their brain.
“The more we can get people doing resistance training like weightlifting, the more likely we are to have a healthier ageing population. The key, however, is to make sure you are doing it frequently, at least twice a week, and at a high intensity so that you are maximising your strength gains. This will give the maximum benefit for your brain.”
The findings reinforce research from a trial this year in which MRI scans showed an increase in the size of areas of the brain among those who took part in a weight-training programme. The brain changes were linked to the cognitive improvements after weight lifting.
Maria Fiatarone Singh, a geriatrician at the University of Sydney and the co-author of the study, said: “The next step now is to determine if the increases in muscle strength are also related to increases in brain size that we saw.
“In addition, we want to find the underlying messenger that links muscle strength, brain growth, and cognitive performance, and determine the optimal way to prescribe exercise to maximise these effects.”
Brains get slacker with age in much the same way as the skin, according to research that may help scientists spot the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers at Newcastle University found that as we age, tension on the cerebral cortex — the brain’s outermost layer — appears to decrease. Yujiang Wang, one of the researchers, said: “In Alzheimer’s disease, this effect is observed at an earlier age and is more pronounced. The next step will be to see if there is a way to use the changes in folding as an early indicator of disease.”
The team also found that female brains tended to be slightly less folded than male brains of the same age. The findings were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.