A new study out of Harvard Medical School has shown that a simple lift, such as lifting a tennis ball, can trigger changes in brain function and brain chemistry that can improve muscle function.
The study also found that lifting weights has beneficial effects on memory and mood.
“We are finding that the weight can improve the function of the brain,” says senior author Christopher H. G. Fager, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical Center.
Fagers group has been studying the impact of exercise on the brain since 2014.
The first study, published in January 2017, showed that weight lifting is associated with a small, but significant, increase in brain activity, as measured by functional MRI (fMRI).
The second study, by Fager and his colleagues, showed significant differences in brain activation in the same subjects as when they performed an exercise that involved lifting weights.
The results of the second study were published in April 2017 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
The researchers found that subjects who were asked to lift weights had significantly greater activation in regions of the brains primary somatosensory cortex and superior temporal sulcus, as well as in a region called the anterior cingulate cortex.
The scientists then compared the subjects’ responses to the exercise to those of a control group.
The subjects in the exercise group had a response rate of 60 percent higher than those in the control group, indicating that the exercise had a greater impact on their brain activity.
In addition, there was a larger change in brain connectivity between regions involved in reward and mood, and greater connectivity between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the anterior insula, both areas associated with mood and motivation.
Faging’s group then looked at how these changes might be linked to changes in cognitive function.
“If you look at the results of that study, it’s not that the activity was just a function of weight, but it’s also not just that the function is increased, it is increased in all areas of the human brain,” Fager says.
“What we are finding is that the effect is cumulative, that it’s more about how it relates to the amount of weight you lift versus the amount you lift.”
Fager’s group found that the impact on brain connectivity correlated with a larger decrease in a cognitive function called executive function.
In other words, when a person exercises, he or she is more likely to be more selective about when and how to do certain tasks.
“The executive function is something that you use to make decisions and to make sense of the world,” he says.
This executive function requires you to be able to quickly and accurately understand how the world works.
For example, you might be able only to remember what you know or know about something if you have a bad executive function, and you can use your executive function to learn about a subject or make decisions, which are essential for our daily lives.
“So, if you are a child who has an impaired executive function and you are trying to figure out what to do with the ball that you are lifting, the executive function may be impaired in some way,” Fagers says.
Another example of a cognitive change is an increased activation in areas involved in planning and working memory.
This is a kind of executive function that involves the ability to take in information and to organize it into an effective plan for a future event.
The increased activation could be related to a better ability to make plans for the future.
A third and final study, which was published in the March 2018 issue of Psychological Science, focused on how weight lifting affects the neural activity in the striatum, a region of the striate cortex that is involved in motor control and motivation, as compared to a region that is not involved in these functions.
Fages team found that when the participants performed a weight lift, there were increased levels of activation in parts of the prefrontal cortex, the anterior nucleus accumbens, and the nucleus accumulocerebellum, two areas of activity in response to the weight.
The participants also had higher levels of brain connectivity and connectivity between those areas of brain, which could help them to better plan for future tasks.
The final study is the most recent of its kind, and Fager expects more of the research to follow suit.
“These studies are the first step,” Fages says.
Fagen is a research fellow in the Brain and Cognition Laboratory at the Harvard School of Public Health.
He was also a member of the Harvard Sports Neuroscience Research Center.
He joined the Harvard faculty in 2008 and received his doctorate in exercise physiology in 2012.