To Achieve Clarity, Try Weights
The science: Lifting dumbbells is obviously great for toning your triceps, but it does the same for your mental muscles. In a November 2010 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, older adults who did simple, low-intensity weight-training exercises three to five times a week for one month performed significantly better on cognitive tests than did the control group, which did no weight training. Specifically, the weight-training group improved in executive function, which includes the ability to plan, regulate behavior, and multitask, says Cay Anderson-Hanley, Ph.D., the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of psychology at Union College, in Schenectady, New York. A 2010 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that one-hour sessions of weight training, done once or twice a week for a year, increased participants’ ability to focus their attention and make the right choice on a challenging brain test, according to lead author Teresa Liu-Ambrose, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of physical therapy at the University of British Columbia. In this study, participants started with two sets of eight repetitions and increased the weight load once they could handle more than eight reps while maintaining proper form. While researchers are still examining why the mind-muscle connection exists, one area they’re exploring is growth factors, such as brain-derived neurotrophic growth factors. These growth factors help the brain generate new neurons, even later in life, and help increase the flexibility of existing ones.
How to put it into practice: Beginners can try three weekly sessions, each including three sets of the exercises used in Anderson-Hanley’s study (which can be found on the National Institutes of Health website, nihseniorhealth.gov). “All you need is a chair and some three- to five-pound weights,” she says. The last set of reps should be a challenge. If it’s too easy, either increase the weight or try a body-sculpting class at a local gym or a DVD (like Step-by-Step Strength Training, With Petra Kolber, $10, amazon.com). Skip a day between workouts so your muscles have some time to rest.