Lori Anderson: Weights really do boost brain power

Weights with aerobic exercise has been described as a 'potent neurobiological cocktail'. Picture: Jake Ibrak
Weights with aerobic exercise has been described as a 'potent neurobiological cocktail'. Picture: Jake Ibrak
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IT’S the weekend, but before you veg out, I have good news and bad news.

The good news is that I know how to improve your focus and memory, the bad news is, you’ll need to heave yourself from the snuggly bug enveloping hug of the sofa. If you are of a certain age it’s time to put down the sudoku and pick up a pair of dumb-bells.

A fascinating new series of studies has revealed that specific exercise routines are not only good for our bodies but for our brains. This is revolutionary. Never before has the choice between bench presses and jumping jacks been equated with keeping the brain young versus curbing cravings. If neither of those float your boat and instead increased creativity is your goal, then it’s time to blast out a playlist and start dancing. The old mantra of “you are what you eat” has just been slam-dunked by its chum “use it or lose it”.

I learned all this while sitting on the snuggly bug enveloping hug of my sofa while reading a recent copy of New Scientist whose brilliant feature on “Workouts that make you smarter” had me reaching for my dust-covered dumb-bells as soon as I’d finished the last paragraph. The gist of it is that researchers are now discovering that different exercises have specific effects on the brain.

Scientists discovered that lifting weights triggered the release of a specific molecule, a growth hormone produced in the liver, which improves communication between brain cells and stimulates the growth of new neurons and blood vessels.

When Teresa Liu-Ambrose of the University of British Columbia conducted exercise tests among a group of healthy older women she found that lifting weights even as little as once a week still led to an impressive improvement in executive brain function. Weights combined with aerobic exercise has been described as a “potent neurobiological cocktail”.

What was also interesting was that high intensity interval training, which is all the rage in gyms across the country, has been found to help curb cravings, according to research by Kym Guelfi at the University of Western Australia. It is thought that this specific type of exercise reduces ghrelin, the demonic “hunger hormone” that persistently demands to be sated.

I’ve always believed that too much emphasis is put on exercise as a means of weight loss, diet is much more important, but I have always recognised the importance of exercise for physical health and now for our mental health.

Earlier this week, I met a Glasgow-based psychiatrist and asked him about the rise of dementia; aside from the fact that we are all living longer, he also attributed it to two things, our (poor) diets and a lack of exercise. We are living far more sedentary lives than previous generations for whom there was far more walking, lifting and carrying involved in everyday life.

The couch potato who scrubbed himself up well and slipped into our lexicon in 1979 is even less of a role model now. I think it’s time to peel him back.

Bye bye Rollers, Rollers goodbye

IT WAS “Shang shang a lang and we ran with the gang”– boy, those were the days, weren’t they? White flares with tartan tramlines that ended at shin level, neanderthal jaws and haircuts straight from the electric chair. The Bay City Rollers have announced a new tour on the back of a BBC documentary that, surprisingly, revealed that Saturday Night by the Scots band inspired The Ramones classic, Blitzkrieg Pop. So, in a way, the Bay City Rollers helped to invent punk. I met them once at Edinburgh airport, when it was just a blip in Scotland’s aerospace, I was sporting flares and a scratch and sniff giant strawberry
T-shirt, I was besotted by them. My older sister hissed at me to go up to them and I shuffled forward, head down, holding a bright yellow Lufthansa boarding pass and whispered: “Could I have your autographs please?” I shuffled back to my rock-hard chair and looked at the boarding pass with wonder but felt nothing but pure rage – all four had autographed over a paragraph of text and it was an incomprehensible scrawl. In that moment I became a Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel fan once more.

Whoop-de-don’t… please!

OVER the past few months if I could be an emoji, I’d be that fellow with the Edvard Munch scream face who grasps his jaundice yellow cheeks, overcome with the biliousness of what he has just seen or heard. In my case it’s “whoop whoop”. What has happened to our country that has made us public “whoopers”? My spin class has turned into an Oprah Winfrey show, and the opening credits of Celebrity Big Brother have now been imbued with a collective whooping cough outbreak.

I’m beginning to dislike the whoopers. Please try to hold it together, people. «