Cardio isn’t the only type of exercise that helps keep you in healthy in multiple ways. It turns out that strength training is good for strengthening your brain as well as strengthening your muscles. There are a few different studies that demonstrate this to be true.
One study found that a single 20 minute weight training can immediately improve your long term memory. To test this, the researchers split up a group of participants into two groups, either active or passive. Both groups were shown a series of photographs, and then asked to recall as many of the photos as possible.
Next one group immediately went to do a 20 minute weight lifting session of leg extensions, while the other group just kicked back. Two days later they had both groups come back and look at another series of photographs, that included the originals that they were shown with other mixed in.
They were testing for the recall of the photos, and the group who did the exercise in between had a significantly easier time spotting the photographs that they had already seen even though it was two days since they did the workout. The passive group could recall about 50 percent of the photos, while the active group recalled about 60 percent. The assumption of why this works is that doing that sort of exercise releases the hormone norepinephrine which may improve the memory. They also tested their salvia for alpha analayze that shows stress and arousal levels. It was higher in the weight lifting group, which points to more arousal in the brain as well.
Any sort of exercise can actually build new brain cells. Some studies have shown that the brain cell growth that occurs from exercise happens in the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that control short and long term memory. This is more important than just being able to remember some random photos that you’re shown too. The difference between work productivity of people who work out versus people who don’t is significant. In fact some studies have shown that an active person only needs to work 42.5 hours in a week to get as much done as an average person can do in 50.
And yes, like the rest of your health, if you stop exercising and revert back to being sedentary then your brain suffers as well. Studies on this have been performed on rats, and show that they start showing memory decline after just a week of inactivity. Rats that are active for ten weeks followed by inactive for three weeks show identical brains to rats who were never active at all, which basically means you’ve got to use it or lose it.
This counts for the long term as well. Yet another study found that people with higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness were more likely to have verbal memory and psychomotor speed 25 years later. So if you want to stay sharp as you age and beat the memory decline that happens to so many people, keeping your body active in addition to your mind is your best bet.