Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past millennium, physical exercise has beneficial effects on the body. Duh. And perhaps more specifically, exercise has potential benefits for our brain health. Have you ever had a stressful day at work and decided to go to the gym, or maybe go for a run or some other form of exercise, and as a result thereof, felt better overall as compared if you didn’t? If not, I’d highly recommend for you to explore this possibility.
And perhaps, and even possibly more specifically, strength training for your LEGS, may have more beneficial effects for your brain. Think about it: our leg muscles are generally bigger, move larger joints that effect the rest of the body, and expend greater amounts of energy, and consider the fact that each and every movement is orchestrated by our nervous system. Imagine how much of a stimulus training the legs may have on the brain.
Let’s be honest, strength training legs is difficult. In gym culture, perhaps there are two tribes: one that loves leg day, and the other that hates it.
And perhaps the reason why leg strength training is so difficult is because just like anything else in Life that is worth the effort, if it was “easy”, everyone would be doing it. Come to think of it, how many older individuals in the >70 years age range do you know have muscular legs? Not too many considering age-related muscle mass loss (sarcopenia) is an inevitable consequence of the normal aging cycle.
From a 2015 study from the journal Gerontology, researchers compared a female cohort of twins between the ages of 43-73 and looked at their leg muscle strength and cognition after a ten year study period. What they found was that the sister with greater leg muscle strength at the beginning of the study, had greater cognitive function ten years later. This is suggestive that there may be some form of sparing effect of cognitive function as we age with leg training.
The authors concluded:
“Leg power predicts both cognitive ageing and global brain structure, despite controlling for common genetics and early life environment shared by twins. Interventions targeted to improve leg power in the long term may help reach a universal goal of healthy cognitive ageing.”
In summary, never under-estimate the power of leg training. When unsure what kind of exercise to perform when you have set aside time to actually exercise, consider getting more “bang for your buck” with some form of stimulus for your legs. Walking, running, sprint intervals, body weight squats, lunges, and all of their multitude of variations, will most likely help stimulate and perhaps preserve your brain health.
Here's a sample bodyweight “LEG” Circuit:
Squats x 10 reps
Forward Lunges x 20 reps (alternating legs)
Step ups x 20 reps
Squat Jumps x 10 reps (or switch out for Jumping Jacks for 20 reps)