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One Secret Side Effect of Lifting Weights You Didn't Know, Says Science

Yes, pumping iron helps your muscles. But it also does wonders for your brain.

At ETNT Mind+Body, we're big believers in strength training as a central pillar to reaching your goals—whatever those goals may be. Want stronger muscles, more flexible joints, and better balance? Lifting weights will help get you there. Want to sleep better every night? Lifting some weights will help you there, too. Want to de-stress? While aerobic exercise is tremendously helpful here, studies have shown that strength training can help ease your anxiety, as well. Finally, want to shed fat and get lean? Contrary to what many believe, you're better off slinging some weights to lose weight—or engaging in HIIT exercises that rely on strength-training moves—than you are doing steady-state cardio exercises.

"As you gain muscle, your body begins to burn calories more easily, making it easier to control your weight," explain the folks at the American Cancer Society.

In fact, a new study published in PLOS Medicine found that people who train with weights several times per week were at "20-30 percent" less risk of becoming obese later on.

Now, if all of this scientific evidence isn't enough to get you into the weight room now, consider yet another benefit of lifting weights you may not have known before. So read on, and for more exercise news, don't miss This Secret Trick for Getting Fit in Seconds, Says New Study.

You'll Think Better

young couple lifting weights
Shutterstock/Syda Productions

According to a study conducted by researchers in Australia and published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society, lifting weights is strongly associated with better brain performance. The study recruited older participants between the ages of 55 and 86 and placed them into several groups, including one that lifted weights (at "80% of their peak strength") twice per week for six months. Having taken cognitive tests along the way—including the Alzheimer's disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive scale—those participants were shown improved significantly in "global cognition."

"The more we can get people doing resistance training like weight lifting, the more likely we are to have a healthier ageing population," the study's lead author, Dr. Yorgi Mavros, of the University of Sydney, remarked in the official release. And for more life-changing exercise advice, see here for the Secret Exercise Tricks for Keeping Your Weight Down for Good.

Weight Lifting Helps Attention, Reasoning, and Memory

Showing How To Train Biceps. Young Athlete In The Gym Performing Biceps Curls With A Barbell

According to a more recent meta-analysis of more than 20 published studies on the connection between weight training and cognitive function, published in 2019 in the journal Psychological Research, people who performed resistance exercises such as lifting weights experienced gains in attention, reasoning and memory.

What's more, another study published last year by Australian researchers—this time in the journal NeuroImage: Clinical—found that lifting weights protects the brain from degenerating. The researchers found that lifting weights two times per week over six months significantly "slowed neurodegeration linked with Alzheimer's disease." And for more exercise tips, check out The 15-Second Exercise Trick That Can Change Your Life.

Why Does Weightlifting Help the Brain?

woman at the gym doing squats

Scientists believe that resistance exercises such as lifting weights is particularly helpful at targeting your hippocampus, the part of your brain that's responsible for memory function and learning. When you grow older, your hippocampus gets less blood flow and tends to shrink. Performing resistance exercises can help restore blood flow to this region.

According to Damian M. Bailey, Ph.D., a professor of physiology and biochemistry at the UK's University of South Wales' Neurovascular Research Unit and an advisor to the European Space Agency, performing squats specifically are effective at bolstering the brain, as performing them will "intermittently challenging the brain with an increase of blood flow and a decrease of blood flow."

"This toing and froing from high-flow to low-flow challenges the inner lining of the arteries that supply blood to the brain," he explained on the BBC 4 podcast "Just One Thing." "We think this it's good because it realizes the good chemicals that the brain needs to grow the things it needs to grow to become more intelligent."

He says that doing three to five minutes of squatting just three times per week are better for the brain than doing steady-state exercises such as running.

More studies back him up. According to 2019 study that gain a lot of attention, which published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, rats that were attached to weights that offered resistance experienced adaptations in their brain cells that enhanced their thinking abilities. "The study finds that weight training, accomplished in rodents with ladders and tiny, taped-on weights, can reduce or even reverse aspects of age-related memory loss," wrote The New York Times. "The finding may have important brain-health implications for those of us who are not literal gym rats."

Some Great Workouts to Try

man pushups

In the market for some great routines? Try some of these terrific workouts:

William Mayle
William Mayle is a UK-based writer who specializes in science, health, fitness, and other lifestyle topics. Read more about William