What changes in the brain after strength training?
In recent years, the curiosity into the adaptations occurring in the brain after strength training, have become a focal point of discussion in neurological based conversations. Research has shown that strength resistance training improves muscle function through an improved neurological ability to activate and control muscle fibres (Marston, Newton, Brown, Rainey-Smith, Bird, Martins, Peiffer, 2017). The research in the past decade surrounding the adaptations that occur in the brain from strength training, are associated with the central nervous system (CNS). Past research has also identified that exercise stimulates the growth of neurogenesis which combats cognitive decline especially in elderly people (Kerr, Clark, Cooke, Rowe & Pomeroy, 2017). This also has a potential to increase an individual’s executive function and memory. Strength training is one of many different types of ways that create changes in an individual’s brain, however, there are many reasons as to why these changes occur.
Although a change in structural plasticity is hard to achieve for an adult, it is still possible to develop and strengthen motor skills after the brain fully matures through strength training. (Hötting & Röder, 2013). These positive adaptations occur through an increased blood flow to the brain that accompany strength training. Weight training, even as infrequently as once or twice a week, has been shown to improve executive function. (Rogge, Röder, Zech & Hötting, 2018).
Research in the past has highlighted how strength resistance training improves muscle function through improved neurological ability to activate and control muscle fibres (Marston, Newton, Brown, Rainey-Smith, Bird, Martins, Peiffer, 2017). Previous studies have discovered that through strength training there is an improved ability for the brain to utilise and make the system most effective. A study by Kidgell, et al., 2017, explains how this occurs through the findings which identified, that if healthy young adults participate in strength training it may result in a reduction of intracortical inhibition. The reduction of intracortical inhibition from strength training means that there is a cutback in how much obstruction there is between the different cortex’s in the brain. This discovery highlights that the excitability of the motor cortex is thought to modulate the acquisition of newly formed motor skills. The study discussed believes that strength training does not appear to modulate corticospinal excitability rather, it modiﬁes cortical inhibition. (Kidgell, et al., 2017). These ﬁndings illustrate that the neural adaptations to strength training involves the removal of local intracortical inhibition from the motor cortex, that mechanistically increases muscle strength (Kidgell, et al., 2017).
In the past few years, research has identified that strength training may stimulate the growth of neurogenesis in a positive manner. An important benefit of neurogenesis is that it can combat cognitive decline especially in elderly people (Kerr, Clark, Cooke, Rowe & Pomeroy, 2017). Age-related cognitive decline is caused partly by changes in neural function which is now known to be counteracted by the benefits of strength training. This is an important find because for many people, the aging process brings along the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. (Liu & Nusslock, 2018). This decisive result occurs due to strength training having an effect on how much of certain proteins are formed in the brain. (Ma et al., 2017). The most important protein that strength training has a part in developing is brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). An increase in this protein from strength training has long been known to stimulate neurogenesis. (Ma et al., 2017). From this knowledge, BDNF has also been shown to enhance mental abilities at the same time as acting against anxiety and depression. (Sleiman et al., 2016). This further promotes the suggestion that strength training may stimulate the growth of neurogenesis in a positive manner through the protein of BDNF.
There has been a wide range of research that promotes how strength training can induce structural plasticity in the human brain and has the ability enhance a variety of cognitive functions. Structural plasticity is one of two types of neuroplasticity which is the brain’s ability to change its physical structure as a result of learning. (Nagamatsu, 2012). The best form of training to achieve a change in an individual’s structural plasticity appears to be strength training, which focuses on developing various motor skills with an emphasis on technique. (Rogge, Röder, Zech & Hötting, 2018). Although a change in structural plasticity is hard to achieve for an adult, it is still possible to develop and strengthen motor skills after the brain fully matures through strength training. (Hötting & Röder, 2013). These positive adaptations occur through an increased blood flow to the brain that accompany strength training. Weight training, even as infrequently as once or twice a week, has been shown to improve executive function. (Rogge, Röder, Zech & Hötting, 2018). Strength training triggers biochemical changes that spur the production of new connections between neurons in the brain. (Nagamatsu, 2012). Studies suggest that strength training is capable of inducing structural plasticity in a variety of cortex’s such as the superior temporal cortex, visual association cortex, posterior cingulate cortex and in the superior frontal sulcus. All of these places in the brain provide a range of cognitive functions which can be positively changed via strength training. (Rogge, Röder, Zech & Hötting, 2018).
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Kidgell, D., Bonanno, D., Frazer, A., Howatson, G., & Pearce, A. (2017). Corticospinal responses following strength training: a systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal Of Neuroscience, 46(11), 2648-2661. doi: 10.1111/ejn.13710
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