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Physical exercise benefits thinking abilities

Updated: Apr 14, 2019

There is now an established body of knowledge showing that both resistance and cardiovascular exercise can benefit our thinking skills by improving the functional capacity of the brain.

More specifically, a study conducted in Australia has found the stronger people get the less likely they are to develop dementia; increased muscle strength leads to improved brain function in adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI; this is a condition placing people at greater risk of subsequently developing dementia). Findings from the Study of Mental and Resistance Training (SMART) trial have shown a positive causal link between muscle adaptations to progressive resistance training and the functioning of the brain among those aged over 55 with MCI.

These research findings add to a body of knowledge indicating that aerobic exercise can also benefit our thinking skills. For example, a study that we published in 2008 has now become a 'citation classic' (with well over 1,000 citations on Google Scholar). This research showed that, in adults with subjective memory impairment, a 6-month program of physical activity produced improvement in cognitive functioning over an 18-month follow-up period.

Taken together, these findings indicate in order to age optimally as well as participating in mentally stimulating activities and maintaining a healthy diet people need to remain physically active, including with respect to both cardiovascular and resistance exercise (if possible).