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How to improve cognitive function by building muscle

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As you grow older, your body undergoes many physiological changes. One major change is the natural loss of muscle as you age, with an average loss of 5.5% per decade after the age of 30. Your peak muscle strength will be 40% less in your 60s [1]. This can be remedied. Those who keep up with building muscle throughout life, have better outcomes in terms of physical fitness. But did you know that building muscles can also enhance cognitive fitness? A recent study has reinforced this body and brain connection, bringing to light more benefits of exercise on the brain.

Building brawns for brain health

Over 8000 people over the age of 65 years were studied for 3 years. Their muscle mass was assessed using special x-ray devices. These participants also underwent tests to assess memory, processing speed and attention skills. Researchers found that those with lower muscle mass had a faster decline in cognitive skills over 3 years [2]. They had lower scores in reaction time tests and recall fluency tests. These participants also exercised less often, which could be a reason for lower muscle mass. This brain and brawn connection has also been demonstrated in a review of 15 studies that concluded that older adults with low muscle mass were 2.3 times more likely to have cognitive impairment compared to those with healthier muscles for age [3].

How does muscle promote cognition?

Your muscles do more than help you perform physical functions. When in action, muscles also produce helpful compounds that benefit brain health. One such category of helpful compounds is called myokines. These are proteins that muscles produce upon exercising. When you are lifting weights, your muscles are pumping out myokines that have brain benefits. Myokines have been well researched in their involvement in protecting brain cells and producing new brain cells [4][5]. The integrity of your brain relies on its brain cells and their connections, much like durable bricks are the foundation of a strong house. Your brain cells need to be protected from inflammation and damage. Myokines can help you do that. A strong, protected brain can perform well in cognitive tasks. 

One of the best ways to build muscle is to perform exercise regularly. There is a wealth of evidence on exercise and the brain benefits it brings. Exercise imparts brain benefits that translate into improved cognitive functions Read more here. There are many ways exercise benefits brain health, including [4]

  • Increased blood flow to the brain.
  • Increasing production of new brain cells in the memory area of the brain.
  • Strengthening connections between brain cells.

How to improve muscle fitness to enhance brain fitness?

Growing old is inevitable but preserving muscle is possible, even in old age. Studies among those over the age of 65, who underwent 24 weeks of muscle building exercise, reported improved scores on cognitive skills including memory scores [6]. Another study of those in their 70s who exercised for 8 weeks, saw improvement in muscle strength and cognitive function [7], reinforcing the benefits of exercise for brain health. Whether you are 20, 50 or 80 years old, there is always time to build muscle and support brain health. 

For peak performance, it is important to provide your muscles with the right raw materials. One such raw material is the nutrient choline which is essential for muscle building. Choline is involved in protein metabolism [8], which forms the basis of muscle growth. An animal study found 50% reduction in muscle protein synthesis in those fed diets deficient in nutrients like choline [8].

Choline is also converted to your learning and memory chemical, acetylcholine. In addition to making you brainier, acetylcholine can also increase your growth hormone when you exercise [10]. Growth hormone is essential in repairing and building muscles. It is good to top up on choline sources if you are looking to maximise your muscle mass. Choline is found in beef, liver, mushrooms, and soy. It can also be taken in supplemental form. One of the most efficient sources of choline is Alpha GPC, which is 41% choline. Alpha GPC has also been studied to increase your growth hormone levels 44 times more than your baseline [9], thus providing support to your muscles for improved performance. The world’s first 99% 500 mg Alpha GPC, is a good option to maximise your choline intake to ensure your brain and muscles are taken care of. 

The short answer for how to keep your brain healthy is to keep your muscles healthy. Regular exercise and adequate choline intake are two easy ways to build and maintain your muscle mass so you can remain strong and sharp even in old age. Your body is accommodating and is always ready for improvements, so start today to give yourself the best chance as you grow older. 

References

  1. Sui, S. X. et al. (2020). Skeletal Muscle Health and Cognitive Function: A Narrative Review. International journal of molecular sciences22(1), 255. 
  2. Tessier, A. J. et al. (2022). Association of Low Muscle Mass With Cognitive Function During a 3-Year Follow-up Among Adults Aged 65 to 86 Years in the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging. JAMA network open5(7), e2219926.
  3. Peng, T. C. et al. (2020). Sarcopenia and cognitive impairment: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland)39(9), 2695–2701.
  4. Scisciola, L. et al. (2021). Sarcopenia and Cognitive Function: Role of Myokines in Muscle Brain Cross-Talk. Life (Basel, Switzerland), 11(2), 173.
  5. Lee, B., Shin, M., Park, Y., Won, S. Y., & Cho, K. S. (2021). Physical Exercise-Induced Myokines in Neurodegenerative Diseases. International journal of molecular sciences, 22(11), 5795.
  6. Cassilhas, R. C. et al. (2007). The impact of resistance exercise on the cognitive function of the elderly. Medicine and science in sports and exercise39(8), 1401–1407.
  7. Berryman, N. et al. (2014). Multiple roads lead to Rome: combined high-intensity aerobic and strength training vs. gross motor activities leads to equivalent improvement in executive functions in a cohort of healthy older adults. Age (Dordrecht, Netherlands)36(5), 9710.
  8. Moretti, A. et al. (2020). Choline: An Essential Nutrient for Skeletal Muscle. Nutrients, 12(7), p.2144
  9. Ziegenfuss, T. et al. (2008). Acute supplementation with alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine augments growth hormone response to, and peak force production during, resistance exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 5 (Suppl 1), P15 (2008).
  10. Lecomte, M. J. et al. (2018). Acetylcholine Modulates the Hormones of the Growth Hormone/Insulinlike Growth Factor-1 Axis During Development in Mice. Endocrinology159(4), 1844–1859.




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