We’ve reported before on the benefits of aerobic exercise to brain fitness and brain function (Exercise Makes Your Brain Bigger | Exercise That Stimulates Brain Plasticity). And the second of those reports seemed to show that strength exercise (weight lifting) didn’t improve brain fitness and mental sharpness the way that aerobic exercise did. However, more recent research seems to suggest otherwise.
In one study Brazilian brain scientists devised a means of getting rodents to do resistance training (climbing a ladder with weights tied to their tails) for several weeks. They compared the brain training benefits of this resistance training to the benefits of regular aerobic exercise or no exercise and concluded that both the resistance training and the aerobic exercise improved spatial memory and activated neurogenesis.
And in a similar study Japanese researchers added a resistance load to the training wheels of rats, causing muscle gain over a period of training. This study, too, found that the resistance training acted as brain training, activating neurogenesis in the rats’ brains.
Studies of humans has also produced evidence in support of the hypothesis that resistance training in the form of weight lifting or loaded resistance exercise can improve brain function. (See A Better Brain After Weight Lifting.)
When viewed from a holistic and practical perspective it makes sense that we would have evolved in such a way that physical exercise and resistance training would act as a spur for neurogenesis and provide an excellent means of brain fitness training. If we’re living a sedentary, undemanding existence our brains can idle — they’re not being called upon to find or win food or outwit our competitors or provide solutions to life’s problems. On the other hand, a physically tough existence calls the brain to action so that it can help us secure that next morsel or escape the encroaching wildebeast.