Does Weight Lifting Make You Smarter?

The Muscle Bound Fool

Have you ever heard the term “all muscle and no brains” and wondered if this statement is true? Researchers have pondered this same question also, as to whether or not resistance or weight training can cause an increase in brain function. It is already known that aerobic exercise causes an increase in the movement of blood to the brain, which they speculate may be necessary for the creation of new brain cells or what is known as neurogenesis. Researchers are aware that aerobic activities such as running can lead to neurogenesis in mice as well as in human beings. This increase of blood flow that helps to form new brain cells takes place in a portion of the brain that is mostly associated with thinking and memory.

However resistance training does not cause this increase or spike in blood flow to the brain, so many researchers believed that it does not have a similar effect. This belief is now being challenged by several studies that have been conducted using lab rats placed in laboratory-created situations similar to lifting weights. In a study that was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuro Science, researchers from Brazil tied weights onto the tails of a group of lab rats and had them climb ladders five times a week. Another group of rats ran on the treadmill while a third group of rats just sat around doing nothing. The rats underwent these activities and inactivity for a period of eight weeks, and the results of the study showed that the rats that were running had a higher level of a neurotrophic brain growth factor known to help increase neurogenesis. Additionally the rats that were training with the weights tied onto their tails also showed an increase in the same area. In fact both the aerobically challenged rats and the weight trained rats showed an increase in learning and memory, leading researchers to believe that they had in fact become smarter.

Researchers in Japan conducted a similar test by tying weights onto the running wheels of rats and concluded that the additional weight helped to improve brain function. However they quickly realised that a running wheel is not the same thing as weightlifting. It is actually more similar to a human being running on a stationary bicycle with an increased resistance. Researchers found that when they increased the amount of load on the wheels that the rats were running on the rats showed a considerable increase in muscle mass. They concluded that the higher the workout level that the rats were able to complete, the higher the genetic activity that occurred within their brains. This study shows for the first time that rats running on weight loaded wheels showed an increase in muscle mass and enhanced gene expression in their brains.

While all these research studies are promising, there is no evidence yet to suggest that the same kind of brain activity will occur in human beings. Researchers are still not sure just how resistance training makes changes in cognition and there is much more research to be done. The most that researchers can say now is that resistance training helps to strengthen the heart, which leads to an improved blood flow to the brain which is generally associated with a better cognitive function. In fact resistance training requires more thinking than aerobic training which typically involves repeating some type of motion continuously for a set period of time. When participating in resistance training it is necessary to think about ensuring that you have proper form and the correct techniques for the particular movements that you are doing. Generally speaking the human brain benefits when it is being used, so the thinking task involved in resistance training puts more of a demand on the brain circuitry. So the next time you see someone  with large well toned muscles you may not want to assume that they are “all muscle and no brain”.

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