How to Stay Mentally Sharp & Avoid Cognitive Decline

How to stay mentally sharp & avoid cognitive decline

Strength Trainer Newport Beach CA

The thought of getting cancer, getting injured from a fall or getting diagnosed with Osteoporosis are all real fears we want to avoid.

But the scariest thing to many adults is the possibility of mentally slipping.

Forgetting your family, forgetting how to do simple tasks and forgetting who you are might be one of the most terrifying side effects of aging.

Although there’s no one-size-fits-all solution there is one thing scientifically shown to decrease the chances of heading down the path of cognitive decline…

Strength Training.

A high quality life

When you look into the future you want to see a life filled with family, hobbies, adventure, and the ability to do what you want- a high quality life.

Part of having a high quality of life is possessing the mental capacity necessary to keep up with that vision of the future. For this we need to have a healthy memory, awareness, and ability to shift focus within seconds.

In terms of health, strength training is usually discussed as an effective treatment for building bone density, controlling blood sugar, and improving the cardiovascular system.

However, research over the past six years is showing that strength training is also an effective method for improving cognitive function, even in those who show signs of decline.

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Improving existing cognitive decline

Strength training has been proven to help prevent cognitive issues, as well as improve cognition in those who already are experiencing decline.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have performed a few studies related to this. Each study included women only. The 2010 study lasted one year with the participants split into three groups:

  • Strength training once per week
  • Strength training twice per week
  • Balance activities and light resistance movements twice per week (control group)


The strength training group trained intensely, typically fatiguing to the point of “muscle success” in about six to eight repetitions.

A couple of cognitive tests were performed before and after the year of training, including:

  • The Stroop Test – a timed test seeing how quickly the participant can read the names of colors when font colors don’t match the name. This measures selective attention, cognitive flexibility, and processing speed.
  • Verbal Digit Span Test – a test requesting the subjects to repeat sequences of numbers that were told to them, providing an assessment of memory.
  • Trail Marker Tests – a series of tests that provide an assessment of several cognitive skills, including the speed at which a person can switch from one focused task to another.


At the end of the study, cognitive performance declined slightly in the control group, but improved by 11 to 13% in the strength training groups.

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Despite being an average of 70 years old, the women who performed strength training became mentally sharper over the 12-month period. In addition, peak muscle power, the key attribute allowing seniors to perform challenging daily tasks, increased by 13% in the twice-weekly strength group.

The 2012 study was a similar experiment but featured an older group of women who had mild cognitive impairment (risk factors for dementia). This study lasted six months and also had three groups:

  • a twice-weekly strength training group
  • twice- weekly aerobic exercise group
  • and a control group that performed balance and stretching movements.

The strength group improved in their Stroop Test scores, memory, and functional changes were noticed in three brain areas (via MRIs).

The effectiveness of strength training on the mind is not limited to women only. A 2007 study at the Federal University of San Paolo found two and three strength workouts per week led to similar improvements in men who averaged 68 years old.

The men in this study also experienced less anxiety, depression, confusion, and fatigue at the end of this study.

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Researchers in Australia tested the theory of resistance training having the ability to boost brain power. 68 women and 32 men between the ages of 55 and 86, all with mild cognitive impairment were observed.

They were randomly assigned to two groups. The first group did weight training twice a week for six months, lifting 80% of the maximum amount they could. The second group did stretching exercises.

“All participants were given cognitive tests at the beginning and end of the study and 12 months after they finished the study. The group that did the weight training scored significantly higher at the end of the study than at the beginning and retained that gain at 12 months. The gain in test scores was also greatest for those who had the greatest gains in strength. The scores of the group who performed stretching exercises declined somewhat.

It's not too late to strive towards improving mental health. With strength training it only takes 20 minutes, twice a week to give you or your loved ones a better chance at a high quality life.

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More research

Strength training has been shown to be a holistic solution to improving brain function and cognition in general. Here are more studies:

One study done in 2017 looked at adults at least 55 years old, and had:

  • one group doing strength training
  • another group doing some computer version of brain training (puzzles, sudoku, etc.)
  • another group doing stretching, or something that hadn't been shown to improve brain function. (control group)

After six months, strength training by itself was the most effective intervention in all the major areas, including improvements in memory and improvements in Alzheimer's disease score- which predicts the risk for developing Alzheimer's.

You would think “brain training” would have been the winner, but strength training beat it.

In one study, adults in senior living facilities were evaluated on tasks of executive functioning before and after a month-long strengthening, non-aerobic exercise program.

“A total of 16 participants who engaged in such exercise showed significantly improved scores on Digits Backward and Stroop C tasks when compared to 16 participants who were on an exercise waiting list.”

Another interesting study found that cognitive decline is associated with a severe fear of falling: a common fear amongst many older adults.

What’s an easy solution to prevention of falling as well as cognitive decline?

Slow-motion strength training!

CDC recommends it. We provide it.

According to the CDC, there are things you can do to reduce risk of getting Dementia:

  • Maintain a healthy blood pressure level
    • Slow-motion strength training has been proven to lower blood pressure and we’ve helped many clients, like John Abel, get off their blood pressure medication.
  • Manage cholesterol levels with exercise and, if needed, cholesterol medications.
  • Keep blood sugar within a healthy range.
    • Our method has helped clients reduce their A1C levels and get their Diabetes under control
    • “The Perfect Workout is reversing my diabetes and reversing my age. My wife says I don’t even look like I’m in my 50’s.”- Larry H.
  • Get to and maintain a healthy weight.
    • By adding lean muscle mass, your body naturally has the ability to burn more calories, making it easier to lose and maintain weight.
    • Read about some of our success stories here.
  • Reduce hazards in your environment that could lead to falls or head injury.
  • Exercise, including aerobic physical activity.
    • Did you know you can get all the cardiovascular benefits you need from a 20-minute strength training session? Here’s how
  • Get good quality sleep.
    • Strength training improves your ability to fall asleep quicker and quality of sleep
  • Keep your mind active and stimulated, with challenging tasks such as learning a new activity.

The solution is simple

Looking at the research above, strength training offers a unique ability to improve cognitive function in a number of ways, even when signs of decline exist. This benefit can be attained in as little as just one intense workout per week.

Considering that strength training requires minimal time, strengthens bones and muscles, improves cardiovascular health, and the ability to process, recall, and react to life’s demands, it’s hard to see why anyone wouldn’t want to participate.

Liu-Ambrose, T., Nagamatsu, L. S., Graf, P., Beattie, B. L., Ashe, M. C., & Handy, T.C. (2010). Resistance training and executive functions: a 12-month randomized controlled trial. Archives of internal medicine, 170(2), 170.

Nagamatsu, L. S., Handy, T. C., Hsu, C. L., Voss, M., & Liu-Ambrose, T. (2012). Resistance training promotes cognitive and functional brain plasticity in seniors with probable mild cognitive impairment. Archives of internal medicine, 172(8), 666-668.

Cassilhas, R. C., Viana, V. A., Grassmann, V., Santos, R. T., Santos, R. F., Tufik, S. E. R. G. I. O., & Mello, M. T. (2007). The impact of resistance exercise on the cognitive function of the elderly. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 39(8), 1401.

Depression & Anxiety Reduced in 20 Minutes

Depression & anxiety reduced in 20 minutes

If you feel stressed, anxious, or sad during this quarantine/COVID-19 period, you are part of the majority.

Fortunately, you have the power to improve and maintain your own mental health.

Several activities have been proven to reduce anxiety and improve overall mood. One of these is… a 20-minute strength training session! (Come on…you knew I was going to say that, right?)

The CDC recently reported that the coronavirus period is adding stress manifested in several ways, including difficulty with sleeping and/or concentration, changes in sleep patterns, fear about your own and/or others’ health, and increased alcohol or tobacco use.

Here is what we know about how strength training can help your mental health:

  1. For people with existing health issues, a strength training program reduces depressive symptoms and improves overall mood (1).
  2. Strength training decreases the severity of depression for those with diagnosed depression (1,2).
  3. As little as eight weeks of strength training works for reducing depression (2).
  4. Training two or three times per week is shown to reduce depression (1,2).
  5. A decrease in anxiety and improvement in overall mood can be seen as quickly as five minutes after the workout is over (3).
  6. A single strength training workout can significantly decrease anxiety (3,4).

A few weeks of strength training, at least twice per week, can reduce depression. A single strength training session can elevate your mood and greatly improve your anxiety level.

More importantly, please remember to take care of yourself. Your physical and mental health are worth investing time in, especially now.

Strength train AND take part in other activities that reduce your stress and add happiness: connect with your family, spend time outdoors, create time for your favorite hobbies, and aim to regularly get enough sleep. This is a stressful time, but remember that you have the power to control your stress level.

  1. Brosse, A.L., Sheets, E.S., Lett, H.S., & Blumenthal, J.A. (2002). Exercise and the treatment of clinical depression in adults: recent findings and future directions. Sports Medicine, 32(12), 741-760.
  2. Stanton, R., Reaburn, P., & Happell, B. (2013). Is cardiovascular or resistance exercise better to treat patients with depression? A narrative review. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 34, 531-538.
  3. Bibeau, W.S., Moore, J.B., Mitchell, N.G., Vargas-Tonsing, T., & Bartholomew, J.B. (2010). Effects of acute resistance training of different intensities and rest periods on anxiety and affect. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(8), 2184-2191.
  4. Broman-Fulks, J.J., Kelso, K., & Zawilinski, L. (2015). Effects of a single bout of aerobic exercise versus resistance training on cognitive vulnerabilities for anxiety disorders. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

Dissolving Depression Through Strength

Dissolving depression through strength

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the common treatments for depression include various types of antidepressants, the herbal treatment St. John’s Wart, psychotherapy, and brain stimulation therapy. After reviewing the research, the NIMH may want to add another option: strength training.

Research shows that strength training, even for as little as 10 weeks, significantly improves depression [1,2]. Strength training’s effect on depression is twice as strong as the benefit achieved through a socializing and health education program, according to one study [1]. Improvements are even seen with people who are diagnosed as clinically depressed. Gains in strength are linked to depression improvements, and improvements in sleep and depression are also connected.

According to the NIMH, about 6.7% of the US population suffers from depression – roughly 21 million people! The disease is likely caused by some combination of thought patterns and biological, genetic, environmental, and physiological factors. MRI scans show that depressed individuals have differences in brain appearance, especially in the regions that are related to sleep, mood, thinking, appetite, and behavior.

Most commonly, depression is treated through antidepressants. While medications can provide benefits, they also carry side effects. For example, antidepressants improve depression in seniors but also increase confusion, risk of falling, and often sedate the medicated individuals [1].

Exercise brings its own set of side effects…except these are side effects that you desire. According to WebMD, regular exercise improves stress, anxiety, and sleep. This is exactly what the researchers in the strength training studies found.

A 10-week study, conducted by researchers from Harvard and Tufts University, demonstrated that strength training with very challenging weights was more effective than a socializing and health education program [1]. Depression scores dropped by about 50-60%, which was about two-times greater than the comparison group. About 40% of the strength training group slept more soundly at the end of the study as well.

A second study conducted with men found that a strength training routine not only improved depression, but also anxiety, anger, and confusion [2]. Both studies showed a strong correlation between strength gained and the degree to which depression improved. Both of these are products of an effective strength training routine.

In regards to at least one mechanism for how strength exercises benefit depression, the researchers in the all-male study said training increases brain blood flow and therefore, increases the nutrients regularly received by the brain.

While I can’t say that we’ve measured clinical depression before and after training at The Perfect Workout, there are many anecdotes of our clients who have found the training to reduce their anxiety, work and personal life stresses, and many clients often walk out of their training sessions in much better spirits than when they came in (of course, that could be due to our wonderful instructors!). With all of this said, is strength training a legitimate treatment for clinical depression? For a similar question WebMD had the following answer:

“Research has shown that exercise is an effective but often underused treatment for mild to moderate depression.”

I think that’s well-stated. As you have read above, strength training provides a major boost to depression as well as anxiety, anger, confusion, and sleep difficulties. This change can happen in less than three months and, unlike medications, strength training won’t leave you with unwanted side effects.

  1. Singh, N. A., Clements, K. M., Fiatarone, M. A. (1997). Sleep, Sleep Deprivation, and Daytime Activities A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Effect of Exercise on Sleep. Sleep, 20(2), 95-101.
  2. Cassilhas, R. C., Viana, V. A., Grassmann, V., Santos, R. T., Santos, R. F., Tufik, S. E. R. G. I. O., & Mello, M. T. (2007). The impact of resistance exercise on the cognitive function of the elderly. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 39(8), 1401.

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