It turns out that exercise builds brain as well as brawn. At least that’s the case if you’re suffering from dementia or mild cognitive decline, which are precursors to Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers at Sydney University in Australia, who recently completed a study confirming that weight training regularly could make people more intelligent, think their discovery could help to build a “healthier aging population.”

The investigation, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, saw people aged from 55 to 86 carrying out exercise and brain training. Results showed that people who were in the high intensity weight training group improved their cognitive function, compared to the group who received the low intensity exercise classes.

“The high intensity group also had an increase in a particular part of the brain known as the posterior cingulate gyrus, and area known to be affected by Alzheimers disease,” said lead researcher Dr Yorgi Mavros.

He added: “Our study shows that these responses are mediated by strength gains. What this suggests is that the stronger you get from weight training, the better the benefit for your brain. So to maximize the effectiveness of your weight training program, you need to do it at a high intensity, around 80 percent of your maximum, and frequently, at least twice per week.”

However, it still remains unclear whether the study results would apply to people that do not have dementia. Also, researchers have not found out exactly how doing weights makes people smarter. But they hope that more and more people will start doing strength training, because when done properly and under supervision, it is both safe and effective for people of all ages.

“In the future we would like to uncover the mechanism that stimulated the cognitive change,” Mavros concluded. “We think whatever is making your muscles bigger and stronger is also having a direct effect on the brain. We don’t know what it is yet, but we are looking to find this out. Until then, just remember it’s never too late to start exercising.”