Our muscles talk to our brain

Thank you so much to everyone who came to my live presentation at Tweed Heads last week. It was lovely to meet so many of you in person and I really appreciate your enthusiastic participation in all the activities. 

For those who were not able to attend, click here to listen to my interview with John Manning on ABC Radio Tropical North for Brain Awareness Week. The interview provides a snippet of what I spoke about at Tweed. 

The feedback I received was that most people have heard about the gut-brain connection (the ongoing two-way communication between our brain and our gut) but few people have heard of the muscle-brain connection. In other words, when we put our muscles to use — lifting, carrying, pushing — they release a cascade of chemicals that travel to our brain where they stimulate the growth, repair and increased connectivity of brain cells. Stronger muscles create a stronger mind. 

Nearly 14 000 people aged 50 or older had their handgrip strength and cognition monitored over an eight year period. Every five kilograms less strength was associated with an incremental drop in mental functioning. It’s one of many studies that all reach the same conclusion: handgrip strength (assuming you haven’t had a recent hand injury) reflects overall muscle strength and is a predictor of cognitive decline. All other things being equal, people who are physically stronger perform better in all tests of brain function — including memory, reaction speed and problem solving. Strength training also reduces depression, anxiety, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 

The good news is that getting stronger (and therefore smarter) doesn’t mean spending hours at the gym. All you need is a few minutes at a time and something for your muscles to lift or push against. Hold a heavy object above your head and raise it up and down. Practise dips using a chair and do squats while watching TV. Hand weights and elastic exercise bands are also very effective — op shops, Gumtree and eBay are full of them. And it’s never too late to start. I began taking Dad to the gym for resistance training in his 80s and he loved showing off his new-found biceps – as you can see in the photo!

Please forward this Health-e-Byte to anyone who is interested in brain health.

  • Carmel McCarty

    I really appreciate your informative & totally useful ebytes.
    I’m in Tassie so can’t come to the lectures, love getting your emails.

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