What’s Better for Your Brain: Weights or Cardio?

Updated: Apr. 06, 2020

What kind of workout is best to give your brain a healthy boost at the gym?

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Exercise is good for the body (you knew this) and mind (you probably already knew this). But what kind of workout is best to give your brain a healthy boost at the gym? For optimal overall health, you want a mix of both, but aerobic (cardio) exercise is the clear winner when it comes to stopping brain drain.

One fascinating study randomly assigned a group of 59 men and women to either an aerobics-focused program or a stretching and strength-training program. After 6 months, sophisticated brain scans using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) showed that the aerobically fit adults had significantly more activity in the frontal cortex of the brain, the region associated with executive function (planning and long-term memory storage), as well as the parietal cortex, the seat of spatial orientation — two areas often associated with age-related cognitive decline.

While cardio does increase blood flow to the brain, that’s not the whole reason for aerobics’ impressive effects.

Instead, the researchers believe that many of the positive changes could be attributed to an increase in BDNF, the “Miracle-Gro” brain hormone. The brain that enjoys cardiovascular training, the researchers say, is “more efficient, plastic, and adaptive, which translates into better learning and performance.” Not too shabby for a daily walk around town.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest