I think we can all agree that having a healthy brain is an integral part of making the most out of your life. Everything you do involves your brain, for better or worse. Truly, it is just that—better or worse, depending on how your brain is doing. A healthy brain functions properly from a cognitive standpoint, as well as in the scope of mental health.
Why Consider Brain Health
Two sides of the same coin, cognitive function, and status of mental health relate to one another. In the arena of wellness, brain health doesn’t always take the front burner, despite its importance. It’s not that people don’t tend to think the health of their brains is important.
Instead, it comes down to the reality that life is messy. We’re constantly bombarded by information to process. Making the time and extra effort to care for your brain health is not always an obvious thing to scratch off the to-do list. Unless, of course, you’re someone who struggles with focus, lack of clarity, or mental health.
Typically, we’re not called on to put in the extra effort until we realize that there is a problem. This is true for many aspects of health because the tendency is that our bodies do so much automatically.
Once we’re aware of an issue, we take time to understand it. We go to the doctor or take to google for some quick advice. We might even start surveying those around us for their opinions, or other information they may have.
Some people care tremendously about preventative care, but I’d gamble to say—it’s still not enough of us. Preventative healthcare is all about doing what you can when can before you have to, because by then, you may not be able to, and it may be too late.
Benefits of Taking the Time to Care for Your Brain
While no diagnosis is needed to take extra consideration in caring for your brain, there are certainly incentives to doing so.
Factually, there is a myriad of side-effects that could be associated with an unhealthy brain. Just as well, a decline in brain health can lead to more complications than are identified as research continues to expand. That said, maintaining brain health promotes the following positive contributions:
- Protect memory
- Limit risk for diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia
- Disable impulsivity and poor judgment
- Increase attention span
- Limit risk for mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, or mood disorders
- Promote healthy weight and avoid obesity
- Stabilize energy levels
- Higher productivity
- Refine problem-solving abilities
Where Strength Training Comes In
What does putting in the effort for a healthy brain look like? There are the obvious clues like reading a book or working out a crossword puzzle. Brain training has also made quite a buzz, but its efficacy in genuinely helping the brain is still to be determined. Among the range of things that may make a significant difference for the brain is strength training.
Defining Strength Training
Strength training is done by performing physical exercises that are designed and leveraged to improve endurance and strength. While often associated with lifting weights, there are various ways to strength train. Strength training is an obvious plus for getting physically fit, but do we tend to think of it as a tool for mental health and cognitive function?
Here is why we should.
Strength Training for the Brain
Strength training, particularly resistance training, has shown to be beneficial for the functioning of the brain. One study concluded that weight training might induce the production of neurons and increase brain plasticity. Brain plasticity, also known as neuroplasticity, is critical for the brain’s ability to evolve with experience. In other words, it’s a calibration system that helps the brain to understand how it can best serve the body based on the data it has processed.
Another study in the examination of older women proved that strength and resistance training improved cognitive function overall. What’s interesting with this study is that regular resistance training without the help of medication was able to produce long-term benefits for cognitive function far after the study ended. This information supports the idea that strength training can prevent cognitive decline among individuals, but especially elderly who are more susceptible.
In terms of mental and emotional help, strength training enables the release of positive-feeling neurotransmitters. These can regulate cells in the brain that may contribute to the onset of mental illness, and possibly improve symptoms for those who struggle with it. Additionally, it can enable behaviors like getting better sleep and increase hydration, which is useful for mental health as well.
Ways to Incorporate Strength Training
If strength training doesn’t sound up your alley, consider the fact that there are many ways to do it, and that you may have already tried it without knowing. Here are some ways to incorporate strength training into your routine.
Remember that becoming acclimated to strength training may take time and discipline, but it’s worth it for your body and mind.
Weight lifting: Using free weights or machines to perform exercises that use weights as resistance to train the body.
Plyometrics: Workouts that involve explosive, maximum strength power movements. (Not GR8 if you’ve got knee problems.) Ex: Box jumps, jump rope, jump squats.
Isometrics: Isolated movements that focus on training muscles through a contraction without moving the joints. (GR8 if you have knee problems.) Ex: Wall sits, planks, tricep dips.
Calisthenics: Involves working for various muscle groups at once in a rhythmic sense, with bodyweight. Ex: Push-ups, pull-ups, lunges.
Resistance training: Using bodyweight or other lightly weighted objects to gain strength and endurance by resisting. Ex: Medicine balls, resistance bands, body squats.
Core strengthening: Isolating the core as a means of providing the rest of the body with adequate support.
Circuit training: Performing any of the following types of strength training in circuit form.
There is great potential for strength training to be a valuable tool for ensuring optimal brain health. Keep in mind that proper form is essential for avoiding injury. Adequate nutrition is necessary for supporting the body as it repairs itself from training. If you’d like to try strength training, don’t hesitate to clear it with your doctor first.