A new Finnish study finds that greater muscle strength is associated with better cognitive function in aging men and women.
The study went beyond the traditional measurement of strength which often use a person’s handgrip strength as a proxy for overall strength.
Researchers discovered a correlation between upper and lower body muscle strength with cognitive function but handgrip strength was not associated with cognitive function. Cognition refers to brain functions relating to receiving, storing, processing, and using information.
The findings appear in the journal European Geriatric Medicine.
Investigators assessed 338 men and women with an average age of 66 years. Muscle strength was measured utilizing handgrip strength, three lower body exercises such as leg extension, leg flexion, and leg press and two upper body exercises such as chest press and seated row.
Sum scores to depict lower body and upper body muscle strength were calculated separately, and cognitive function was assessed using the CERAD neuropsychological test battery with calculated total score.
Handgrip strength is relatively easy and fast to measure, and it has been widely used as a measure of muscle strength in various studies.
However, this new study could not demonstrate an association between muscle strength and cognitive function when using a model based on mere handgrip strength and age.
Instead, an association between muscle strength and cognitive function was observed only when sum scores depicting upper or lower body muscle strength were included in the model.
“The findings suggest that it may be justified to go beyond the handgrip and to include the upper and lower body when measuring muscle strength, as this may better reflect the association between muscle strength and cognition,” said researcher and graduate student Heikki Pentikäinen, the first author of the article.
Pentikäinen is currently preparing a Ph.D. thesis on the topic for the University of Eastern Finland.
Exercise is known to have various health benefits, and strength training is a way for practically everyone to increase muscle mass and enhance muscle strength.
The study provided new insight into the methodology of measuring muscle strength and into the role of muscle strength in cognitive function.
The investigation was part of the extensive, population-based DR’s EXTRA study, a four-year randomized and controlled intervention study analyzing the effects of exercise and nutrition on endothelial function, atherosclerosis and cognition.
The study was carried out at Kuopio Research Institute of Exercise Medicine in 2005-2011 and it involved more than 1,400 men and women living in the eastern part of Finland.