In the late 80's, Saturday Night Live introduced us to Hans and Franz, the goofy, overly-bulky training duo who wanted to "pump... [clap] you up." Their humor fed off a stereotype of weightlifters as steroid-popping, slow-witted meatheads. They were pretty damn funny. One of their classic lines was "listen to me now and believe me later," which they'd say before delivering some fitness advice. So, in that spirit: read this now and believe me later.
Turns out, the stereotype that lifting weights will turn your brain to mush is not just wrong, it's dead wrong. A recent study by Georgia Tech shows that weightlifting improves memory.
The research demonstrated that just one 20-minute resistance workout can enhance "episodic memory" -- what we typically think of as long term memory -- by 10 percent. There have been prior studies on the impact of cardiovascular exercises on memory, but the Georgia Tech team focused on anaerobic exercises.
Volunteers in the study viewed dozens of images on a computer screen before their workouts and were not asked to remember anything. The photos were either positive (e.g., children playing), neutral (e.g., a table), or negative (e.g., mutilated bodies).
Immediately after viewing the photos, each volunteer sat at a leg extension resistance machine. Half of the people in the group were told to extend and contract each leg while lifting a challenging weight 50 times, while the other half had their legs moved by the machine without exerting any effort themselves.
48 hours after this short workout, both groups were shown the original photos with new ones mixed in. Their task was to identify which they had seen before. The test group that exerted itself recalled 60 percent of the images; 50 percent of the passive control group did. The categories of photos for which the volunteers who did the workout had an increase in recall were the emotionally charged photos: the positive and negative ones, not the neutral ones. Previous research has shown that we are more likely to remember emotional experiences.
Lisa Weinberg, a graduate student who led the research said, “Our study indicates that people don’t have to dedicate large amounts of time to give their brain a boost." This is great news for many of us who do not have a lot of time to exercise. If a one-time, brief leg exercise can enhance memory in a meaningful way, imagine what a resistance workout three to five days a week can do? Hopefully, this inspires us all to prioritize exercising a bit more.
As Arnold Schwarzenegger said when he was a guest on SNL in a Hans and Franz skit, "Listen to me now, and believe me later. It doesn't matter how much you pump up those muscles, as long as you reach the full pumptential." So pump when you can and boost your long term memory.
We'd love to hear from you. Do you notice improved memory after you work out? Comment on our Facebook page at facebook.com/flytefitness or tweet us at @flytefitness.
Be Flyte Fit,
Co-Founder & CEO