A new study finds that muscular strength, measured by hand grip, is a significant indicator of brain health. This link was found to be consistently strong in both younger (under 55 years) and older people (over 55).
Previous studies have only demonstrated the connection in elderly people.
The findings also show that maximum hand grip strength is strongly linked to both visual memory and reaction time in people with psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia. In the future, the researchers plan to investigate whether weight training could benefit the brain health of people with mental health conditions.
Using data from 475,397 participants from across the United Kingdom, the new study showed that on average, stronger people performed better across every test of brain functioning used. Tests included reaction speed, logical problem solving and multiple different tests of memory.
In addition, maximal hand grip was strongly correlated with visual memory and reaction time in over one thousand people with psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia.
“When taking multiple factors into account such as age, gender, body weight and education, our study confirms that people who are stronger do indeed tend to have better functioning brains,” said Dr. Joseph Firth, research fellow at the National Institute of Complementary Medicine at Western Sydney University in Australia.
“We can see there is a clear connection between muscular strength and brain health. But really, what we need now, are more studies to test if we can actually make our brains healthier by doing things which make our muscles stronger, such as weight training,” said Firth.
Firth analyzed the numbers using data from the UK Biobank. Previous research by the group has already shown that aerobic exercise can improve brain health, but the benefit of weight training on the brain has yet to be fully investigated.
“These sorts of novel interventions, such as weight training, could be particularly beneficial for people with mental health conditions,” said Firth, also an honorary research fellow at the University of Manchester.
“Our research has shown that the connections between muscular strength and brain functioning also exist in people experiencing schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar disorder — all of which can interfere with regular brain functioning.”
“This raises the strong possibility that weight training exercises could actually improve both the physical and mental functioning of people with these conditions.”
The study analyzed data from the UK Biobank (2007-2010), which included 475,397 individuals from the general population, and 1,162 individuals with schizophrenia.
The findings are published in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin.
Source: NICM, Western Sydney University