It has long been established that aerobic exercise, like pounding the pavement in your best running shoes, has a positive effect on the brain by activating a molecule called ‘brain-derived neurotrophic factor’ (BDNF), which plays a role in both repairing and making new brain cells. It’s also linked with having a larger hippocampus, which is the area of the brain critical to learning and memory. 

However, new research out of Purdue University in Indiana has hinted that increased strength and muscle size are also closely associated with enhanced cognition. While high-load, low-rep and low-load, high-rep approaches stimulate the muscles in different ways, to produce different myokines that act on the brain cells, the end result in both cases is the same: improved memory, processing speed and executive function.

Other studies showing strength training improves brain health

There have been several other studies that suggest a link between strength training and improved brain health. One study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that resistance training was associated with improvements in cognitive function in older adults. Another study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that strength training can help improve memory and cognitive function in those with mild cognitive impairment.

Aerobic exercise and brain health

Aerobic exercise has also long been linked to improved brain health. Studies have shown that regularly raising your heart rate can have positive effects on cognitive function, brain structure, and overall brain health.

One study published in the journal Neurology found that older adults who engaged in regular aerobic exercise experienced less brain shrinkage and had better cognitive function compared to those who did not exercise regularly. Another study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that aerobic exercise can lead to increases in the size of the hippocampus, the brain region involved in memory and learning.

These studies, along with a wealth of others, are evidence of the benefits of aerobic exercise for brain health. Incorporating a healthy mix of both aerobic exercise and strength training into your regular routine is going to work wonders for both your physical fitness and mental powers – well into old age.