Lifting weights is proven to prevent brain shrinkage!

- Emily Turnbull, Accredited Exercise Physiologist

If you have been following me for a while or had a consult with me, you would know that I am a HUGE advocate of strength training. I have 2 major motos when it comes to exercise –

1.“Something is better than nothing, More is better than less”

2.“Going on a daily walk isn’t going to cut it…”


There is a few reasons why I’m a big advocate of strength training

  1. It’s good for the bones. Being a woman in particular, osteoporosis becomes a major risk later in life. Sadly, many people with brittle bones who suffer from a fall will break their hip, ending often in a one-way trip to the hospital. Strength Training can help reduced the risk of falls, and also make our bones stronger and less susceptible to fractures.
  2. It’s what keeps us independent. Being able to walk is great, but its not much use if you cant lift your body out of a chair. The ability to stand up from a seated position is what keeps us independent, if you don’t have the leg strength to do this then its likely you will need a carer to assist you getting in and out of bed/ on and off the toilet, or moving around your home in general.

Some really exciting research has come out of Sydney last week, with researchers showing that weights training can protect parts of the brain that are vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease. Professor Valenzuela, from the Brain and Mind Research Institute, said it was the first time that any medical or lifestyle intervention had been shown to slow or halt degeneration in the brain.

Many of us witness the heartbreaking nature of watching a friend or family member slowly decline with memory and cognition. And I feel like most of us would agree that “I’d rather have sore joints and move a bit slower, than lose my marbles”. So with this research comes a really strong message… there is something we can do NOW that will have lasting effects into the future. And also, its going to help those achey joints at the same time!



The study, published in the NeuroImage Clinical Jounral ( showed that 6 months of strength training was able to slow or halt degeneration in the hippocampus and it’s subregions, when tested a year after the exercise.

The hippocampus is the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning. It has a role in special awareness and emotional response, recollecting past memories and also imagining the future. This area of the brain is the earliest and most severely affected structure in several disorders such as Alzheimers Disease and epilepsy. This is typically why we see a change in personality, loss of orientation and loss of memory with dementia.

So what did the study involve?

Participants were randomly split into four groups

  • Computerised brain training
  • Strength training
  • A combination of brain training and strength training
  • Control group (nothing)

The control group showed a shrinkage of the hippocampus at a level of around 3 to 4 percent. The weight training group showed 1-2 percent, and in some areas none at all.

What do I find most interesting…. Only the strength training group showed the significant results! Not even the combination group. What does that mean? Well, time and money is probably better invested in the gym than an ipad app that claims to ‘train your brain’. Not to mention, we are strengthening so much more than just our brain when we exercise.

So let me finish with this question-

If there was something out there, that you could take on a regular basis, that was proven to treat heart diseases, diabetes, arthritis, depression and aid in the management of cancer and Alzheimers Disease, all in one hit, would you take it?

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