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AARP Bulletin

Health Discovery

Stronger Muscles, Stronger Brains

Study shows lifting weights just once a week helps keep your brain sharp

En español | For older women, the type of exercise you do may be more important than how often you do it. That's the message of a surprising new study by Canadian researchers that found that women who started a once-a-week strength-training program were more likely to stick with it — and reap the physical and mental benefits — than those who started a twice-a-week program.

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A year later, researchers again tested the women to determine who had maintained their physical activity level as well as the mental boost they had gotten from exercising during the original program.

"We were very surprised to discover the group that sustained cognitive benefits was the once-weekly strength-training group rather than the twice-weekly training group," says lead author Teresa Liu-Ambrose of the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility at Vancouver Coastal Health and the University of British Columbia.

Is exercising once a week enough?

Although the twice-weekly group was exercising less a year later, the once-weekly group was still active and showed a 15 percent improvement on their mental skills test as compared with the balance-and-toning group, the researchers found.

Liu-Ambrose believes it's because the once-weekly group found it easier than the twice-weekly group to maintain the same level of physical activity of the original study. "Those who start a once-weekly strength-training program are more likely to stick with it," she says.

In other words, while exercising more often may ideally be better for you, ultimately the best exercise program is one that you actually will keep doing.

Candy Sagon writes about health and nutrition for the AARP Bulletin.

Strength-Training Tips

Stronger Muscles, Stronger Brains

Lifting weights just once a week offers brain health benefits. — B2M Productions/Getty Images

  • Do a single set of repetitions. Just one set of 12 repetitions with the proper weight can build muscle as efficiently as multiple sets.
  • Equipment? Use elastic bands, dumbbells or weight machines.
  • What's a proper weight? One that's heavy enough to tire your muscles by the 12th repetition. You should just barely be able to finish the last one.
  • Start slowly. Start with only a few pounds — or the easiest band — to get your muscles, tendons and ligaments accustomed to weight training. Once you can easily do 12 repetitions, gradually increase the weight.
  • Helpful hint: According to the new study described here, you'll see mental improvement from regular strength training just once a week.

Source: Mayo Clinic.

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