About the author:
Alexendar Dec PhD has a B.S. in Molecular Biology and a PhD in Neuroscience with a research emphasis on nitric oxide, glutamatergic and dopamine systems in the striatum as it pertains to Schizophrenia, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. Previously Doctor Dec worked for Abbott Laboratories, a large pharmaceutical company, for 4 years.
A recent article in the International Journal of Sports Medicine (*Suijo et al.) explored the effect of resistance exercise on cognitive function. It is widely accepted that aerobic exercise has many cognitive benefits, but there are conflicting human studies on the effects of resistance training. This study found that resistance training in mice increased their scores on cognitive behavior tasks as well as increasing levels of BDNF and CREB in the hippocampus. CREB is a protein that regulates the expression of the BDNF gene into the BDNF protein. Both of these are associated with synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus or the creation of new neuron connections and, therefore, with learning and the creation of new memories. Furthermore, they found a correlation between increases in mTOR activation in the soleus (i.e. one of the muscles in the calf) with BDNF expression. mTOR is associated with the regulation of protein synthesis and, in this case, increases in muscle. You may see mTOR mentioned in supplement ads as it is of great interest to companies out there looking for ways to increase protein synthesis into muscle. In this study, by showing a correlation between increases in mTOR and BDNF expression, they are essentially linking the process of muscle growth as a result of resistance training with increases in learning and memory.
Overall their findings were not extremely impressive, but it does help start the discussion that resistance exercise holds many more benefits than just increases in strength and muscle mass and can be beneficial to everybody. Their findings, in regards to increases in BDNF and CREB expression, were significant. Several studies have shown that both of these molecules increase expression in response to exercise and decrease in response to stress. Past studies, however, focused on their response to aerobic exercise exclusively. Some of the caveats in this study were their lack of explaining why there was no significant difference in mass gained between the resistance animals and the aerobic animals, no presentation of a pathway or mechanism to connect cognitive ability with exercise, and also not explaining how this helps clear up the confusion from the conflicting human studies. It is after all, humans that we ultimately care about.
However, as I said, this study will hopefully be the first of many from this group and others that help to address the mind and body connection and what benefits to our mind we can achieve through resistance training in addition to aerobic exercise.
*Suijo, K, Inoue, S, Ohya, Y, Odagiri, Takamiya, T, Ishibashi, H, Itoh, M, Fujieda, Y, Shimomitsu, T. Resistance exercise enhances cognitive function in mouse. Int J Sports Med: 2012, Oct 5 [epub ahead of print]