It’s Time to Choose: Your Muscles or Your Mind

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

August 10, 2012

  • Groundbreaking new research that will send you running to the gym
  • My new exercise recommendation
  • Strengthening safely

If there’s one thing we all know we “should” do to stay healthy, it’s exercise.

But many of us struggle to exercise regularly. We stop and start, fit it in here and there, without really committing to a regular routine.

And just like diet, the topic of exercise attracts hundreds of gurus, each with their own recommendation. Many people jump from fad to fad, or ignore the issue completely, and hope it will go away.

To keep it simple, I’ve always recommended that my patients – and readers – simply move their bodies. Walk for 30 minutes a day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator when possible. Little things like that.

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But a compelling new study has convinced me to add strength training to that recommendation and incidentally to my own routine twice weekly. When I share the results, I’m sure you’ll understand why I feel so strongly – and urgently – about this topic now. You might even take off for the gym before you get to the end of this issue!

You see, your muscles are a primary target of aging. Continuing to build and protect them could make the difference both in the quality and length of your life. And shockingly, protecting your muscles can also make the difference in the mental acuity you maintain as you age, as well.

See for yourself…

The study focused on women between the ages of 70-80 with mild cognitive impairment. They split the participants into three groups. The control group did balance and tone training that focused on stretching, relaxation range of motion and balance exercises.

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The second group did aerobic training, consisting of an outdoor walking program. And the third did resistance training, using a combination of free weights and a pressurized air system to safely provide resistance and build muscle.

After 6 months of twice-weekly sessions, the group that did resistance training experienced “significant” cognitive improvement compared to the control group. And while the group that did aerobic training showed significant improvements in physical functioning when compared to the control group, they didn’t experience nearly the same cognitive benefits as the resistance training group.

When you consider the implications of this study, you can’t help but re-commit to an exercise program if you’ve been slacking. These results were based on just two 30-minute sessions per week. Surely not more than any one of us could afford. Especially if it holds the key to maintaining memory and cognitive function as you age.

So my new recommendation is to continue walking – 30 minutes every day. Plus, add in two 30-minute strength-training sessions each week. There are a couple of ways to do this. First, you can use weights – either free weights or machines that use weights. Getting some instruction first if you’ve never used them is very important. A gym or fitness center usually has an in-house trainer who can familiarize you with the equipment to get you started.

You can also creatively use gravity as resistance to strengthen muscles. Ultimately, this is what old-fashioned push-ups and sit-ups had going for them. Gravity and the weight of your own body!

A safe and effective way to use resistance without turning to weights is to use bands that are designed for exercise. You might hold one on the floor under your foot and pull it up with your arms. Or lying down on your back, you can push on the bands with your feet while you hold them with your hands. There are a myriad of ways to use them and work out your entire body.

While hiring a trainer or going to a gym might be ideal, there are simpler, less costly ways of building strength training into your exercise routine. Look for online resources, specifically those that target your gender and level of physical ability.

And just like you do with walking, you might consider finding a buddy. Someone who will commit to twice weekly sessions and help hold you accountable.

Of course, one of the reasons many people avoid using free weights or other forms of resistance when exercising is fear of injury. But following a few common sense safety guidelines can go a long way in minimizing your risk…

Here are my top three safety tips to avoid injuries during exercise…

1) Know Your Limits (and get a work out buddy to spot you.) Go slow, especially if this type of exercise is new to you. If you overdo it in the beginning, you are more likely to quit. And if you push yourself past what your body can take before you have built up strength and endurance, you are more likely to get injured. But if you allow your muscles to build slowly, you will gradually feel stronger and be able to increase how much you can do.

2) Handle Your Health Conditions: If you have any health condition – arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, etc. – you should consult your doctor before starting your program. Find out if there are any types of exertion you should avoid or limitations you should know. Just about any health condition benefits from wise exercise, but you could unknowingly put yourself at risk if you don’t take a few precautions.

3) Get Enough Air and Water: The top two mistakes people make when exercising – and particularly when doing strength or resistance training – is skimping on air and water. Be sure to breathe when you are lifting or pulling weights and releasing them. Holding your breath during exertion is a good way to get dizzy, pass out, and hurt yourself.

And while you probably know to increase your fluids when you work up a sweat, you might not realize that lifting weights in an air-conditioned gym still necessitates extra water, even if you don’t break a sweat. Your muscles are made up of a large percentage of water – it’s why one of the first signs of dehydration is muscle cramping. So building muscle naturally requires additional fluids. Also, lay off the alcohol and caffeine before and after your workout, as both are dehydrating.

Muscle strength is important at any age. But as you get older, it can be harder to maintain. In the next issue, I’m going to discuss a health condition that weakens muscles, makes you more prone to falls, and can limit your mobility… and can begin as early as 40! This condition is often undiagnosed, but is avoidable with some effort. Be sure to check out the next issue to find out more.


Nagamatsu LS, et. al., Resistance training promotes cognitive and functional brain plasticity in seniors with probable mild cognitive impairment. Arch Intern Med 2012; 172(8): 666-668.

Danielle Laurin, et. al., Physical Activity and Risk of Cognitive Impairment and Dementia in Elderly Persons. Arch Neurol. 2001;58(3):498-504

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