Linking Strength and Cognitive Function in Aging Men and Women

Andy Peloquin

Personal Training


Linking Strength and Cognitive Function in Aging Men and Women - Fitness, weightlifting, fitness, hand grips, resistance training, brain health, cognitive ability


We're all very familiar with the strength-related benefits of resistance training. With stronger muscles, we're more easily able to carry out our activities of daily life: hauling out the garbage, moving heavy objects, playing with our kids, and the list goes on. We also know the benefits of our cardiovascular system, our bones, and our joints.



But what about our brains? So often, we forget that exercise is vital for a healthy brain. As one new study found, strength training can have a direct relationship with an improvement in cognitive function. Weightlifting doesn't just make you stronger—it can also make you smarter.


The study, published in European Geriatric Medicine, involved nearly 340 men and women in their later years (average age = 66). Their muscular strength was measured with a number of upper and lower body exercises, and their cognitive function was assessed via the CERAD neuropsychological test battery.


To date, most similar studies have only measured handgrip as a metric for determining overall strength. However, this study used both upper and lower body exercises to analyze muscular strength in relation to cognitive function. The study found that higher muscle strength (in the upper and lower body, not just the handgrip) was correlated with an increase in cognitive function.


The study didn't delve into the mechanisms of why increased muscle strength led to better brain function, but it discovered the link beyond all shadow of a doubt. Further studies will be required to analyze how muscular strength can improve cognition.


Handgrip strength is relatively easy and fast to measure, and it has been widely used as a measure of muscle strength in various studies. However, this new study could not demonstrate an association between muscle strength and cognitive function when using a model based on mere handgrip strength and age. Instead, an association between muscle strength and cognitive function was observed only when sum scores depicting upper or lower body muscle strength were included in the model.

"The findings suggest that it may be justified to go beyond the handgrip and to include the upper and lower body when measuring muscle strength, as this may better reflect the association between muscle strength and cognition," says Early Stage Researcher Heikki Pentikäinen, the first author of the article, who is currently preparing a PhD thesis on the topic for the University of Eastern Finland.



1. H. Pentikäinen, K. Savonen, P. Komulainen, V. Kiviniemi, T. Paajanen, M. Kivipelto, H. Soininen, R. Rauramaa. "Muscle strength and cognition in ageing men and women: The DR's EXTRA study." European Geriatric Medicine, 2017; 8 (3): 275 DOI: 10.1016/j.eurger.2017.04.004.

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