Think & Lift: How Weight Training Changes The Brain
Have you ever noticed how good you felt after a workout? Sure, you may feel tired at first, but afterward, you feel your mood improve and the ability to focus sharpen. Health experts have said for years that exercise promotes brain health. For a long time, people believed only aerobic exercise, like running and cycling, could offer such benefits. Researchers, however, are finding weight lifting also changes the brain offering many of the same benefits for your brain! How weight training changes the brain is a little different than aerobic exercise.
Both forms of exercise help the body push more blood and oxygen flowing through the brain. Weight lifting, being a different form of exercise, also boosts neuron health, and more.
Want to learn more about how weight training can improve your brain health? Here’s what you need to know about weight lifting and your brain.
About Your Brain
The brain is a miraculous and powerful computer. It does everything from regulating your body’s daily functions to helping you make decisions and think abstractly.
Despite the existing research, there’s still much to learn about the brain. One such aspect is the brain’s relationship with physical activity.
Exercise stimulates your lungs, heart, and muscles, as well as your brain. In a way, your brain is like a muscle with the ability to change. This change, known as neuroplasticity, occurs from external and internal influences.
Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of your neuron structure to change. For a long time, health experts believed this change only occurred from infancy through childhood. Once you hit adulthood, your brain structure could no longer change.
New research proves this belief to be wrong. You can change parts of your brain to improve memory, emotions, and more. These areas of your brain can adapt, change, and grow throughout your adult life.
Weight Training vs. Aerobic Exercise
Health experts believed cardiovascular exercise was the best form of exercise to boost your mood and overall health. New research, however, suggests weight training may be a better alternative.
Cardiovascular boosts production of the “feel good” hormones dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins, but it’s a catabolic activity. This type of exercise produces high amounts of cortisol, a stress hormone, which breaks down the body.
Weight lifting also produces the same “feel-good” hormones. Weight training is a form of anabolic exercise that builds the body up.
Lifting weights releases testosterone, another “feel good” hormone. Weight lifting still produces cortisol but less than cardiovascular exercise.
Long-term effects of weight training include improved mood, confidence, and brain function. Some will argue these benefits are greater with weight training than cardiovascular exercises.
How Weight Training Changes the Brain
Your body produces and releases more hormones and similar substances during exercise. These hormones enter your bloodstream and your brain.
Researchers found when these hormones enter the brain, they can make changes to the brain’s structure. These changes include:
- New brain cell production
- Strong connections between cells
- Neuron creation in memory areas of the brain
- New blood vessels allowing more oxygen and nutrients to reach the brain
When you’re lifting weights, you’re thinking about the present moment. You pay close attention to how you move your body when you lift and how you breathe. You must concentrate and focus to ensure you perform each rep correctly and to prevent injuring yourself.
Improving mindfulness can reduce anxiety and depression while improving your sense of well-being. Research has also found weight lifting improves blood flow, oxygen, and hormone production in the brain. Together, they improve your brain and emotional health.
Weight Training Helps Manage Depression
Many factors cause depression, including life events, stress, chemical imbalances in the brain, genetics, and so much more. The many different factors can make depression a difficult ailment to heal.
New research is finding that exercise can help ease depression symptoms. Weight lifting, in particular, has an almost immediate effect on depression.
Weight lifting increases the production of several hormones, including cortisol, testosterone, epinephrine, endorphins, and more. Endorphins are the “feel-good” hormone that manages pain and improves mood.
Weight lifting also boosts the production of dopamine and serotonin, the two most common anti-depressant hormones. When you feel depressed, your body produces less dopamine and serotonin, causing you to feel sad, frustrated, and tired.
Lifting weights at least twice a week can improve your mood and ease the symptoms of depression. The next time you’re feeling down, try resistance training. You’ll start feeling the benefits while you workout.
Weight training and exercise should not replace prescription medications. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about starting a weight lifting routine.
Reduce Anxiety by Lifting Weights
Have you ever experienced anxiety? If yes, you know it’s an uncomfortable feeling of self-doubt, nervousness, and worry.
Weight training can help minimize the symptoms of anxiety. Again, weight lifting produces more of the “feel good” hormones dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. These hormones will improve your mood and calm your mind.
The mindfulness side of weight training may also lower feelings of anxiety. Since weight training forces you to focus on the present, your mind has a more difficult time wandering and worrying. It helps build mental toughness as you overcome fatigue and pain as you lift.
Lifting weights offers a sense of predictability. Some individuals who struggle with anxiety find other forms of exercise, like cycling and running, too unpredictable. With strength training, you know where you’re going to work out, your workout routine, and what to expect.
Regular weight training also helps build your confidence. The act of completing sets of exercises and building strength builds people’s confidence as well as their emotional health.
Researchers are still discovering more links between anxiety and weight training. You shouldn’t replace any prescription medications with weight lifting. Talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns you may have about weight lifting.
Boost Your Memory With Weight Training
Physical changes, such as cell growth, can occur in your brain when you lift weights. These changes promote better memory and improve brain functionality.
Weight training at least three times each week can improve memory and overcome some cognitive impairments. Researchers are learning that people of all ages could improve their memory with weight training.
Weight lifting also slows brain atrophy and degeneration as people age. Those who regularly lift weights, at least 2-3 times per week, showed fewer brain lesions and degeneration than those who maintained a sedentary life.
Many researchers believe the stress hormone epinephrine handles improving memory. Epinephrine is one of the hormones released during exercise, including weight training. The release of norepinephrine during stress also plays a role in improving long-term memory.
Weight lifting will help you maintain a healthy brain and a long-lasting memory well into your senior years.
Lifting Can Lengthen Your Life
As you age, your brain and body start to degenerate. Your body loses muscle strength causing it to become weaker and less functional. If left unchecked, a weaker body can shorten your lifespan.
Regular strength training makes your body stronger and helps you maintain the ability to perform simple physical tasks. Aerobic exercises aren’t enough to maintain physical strength in your later years.
The combination of hormones released and improved blood flow helps boost cell regeneration and cognitive function.
How Often Should You Lift?
Whether you’re new to weight training or have been lifting for years, there is a sweet spot for how often you should lift. Not lifting enough will result in fewer health benefits. It will also take you much longer to achieve a fitter, healthier body.
Too much weight training can cause your body to breakdown, negating some of the long-term benefits of weight lifting. This can increase stress, anxiety, fatigue, and irritability.
How often should you lift? The answer varies from person to person. Researchers suggest weight training at least 2-3 times each week for at least 20 minutes. This will improve your brain function, boost your mood, and help you live a healthier life.
As your body strengthens and adapts to the weight, you can slowly add more weight or more reps. Make sure to listen to your body and don’t try to do too much too soon.
Weight Training Makes Your Body Amazing
Learning how weight training changes the brain will help you understand the important role weight training plays in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
A combination of a healthy diet, vitamins and minerals, and weight training will keep you looking and feeling great for years. If you haven’t started yet, it’s time you hit the gym and give weight training a try!
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