MUSCULAR strength is correlated with the functional ability of the brain, suggests research from the University of Manchester, Manchester, UK. The study found that people with a strong handgrip had better reaction speeds, problem solving abilities, and memory on average than those with lower muscular strength, findings that could lead to the development of new strategies to benefit patients with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia.
UK Biobank Data
Previous research has shown that brain health can be improved by aerobic exercise, and here the team wanted to see if there was a similar link between muscular strength and cognitive function. Using UK Biobank data of 475,397 people from the general population and 1,162 individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, the researchers compared muscular strength levels, measured by handgrip, with the results of multiple brain functioning tests. These assessments encompassed areas such as memory, logical problem solving, and reaction speed.
Effect of Muscular Strength
The analysis revealed that on average, stronger people performed better across all the tests, with the results consistent in people both under and over the age of 55 years. In the schizophrenia patients analysed in the study, handgrip strength was strongly associated with reaction time and visual memory.
Weight Training and Mental Health
The findings indicate that weight training could be used as a way of helping individuals with mental health problems. Dr Joseph Firth, University of Manchester, commented: “When taking multiple factors into account such as age, gender, bodyweight, and education, our study confirms that people who are stronger do indeed tend to have better functioning brains.”
He added: “Our research has shown that the connections between muscular strength and brain functioning also exist in people experiencing schizophrenia, major depression, and bipolar disorder, all of which can interfere with regular brain functioning. This raises the strong possibility that weight training exercises could actually improve both the physical and mental functioning of people with these conditions.”
The group stated that further research is now required that assesses whether exercise that builds muscle strength, such as weight training, makes the brain healthier.
James Coker, Reporter