Research in the News – Can Weight Training Boost the Aging Brain?

Submitted by Dr. Liza Stathokostas, CCAA Researcher

Recently the media reported on a study that examined the effects of resistance training on “cognitive function” in Seniors.   A sample of headlines includes: “Resistance Training May Stave Off Dementia” and “‎Training with weights can help seniors in battle with dementia”.

Often, the general public only hears or reads a headline that may not necessarily reflect what the actual research has indicated.  Promising new research is exciting and contributes to a larger body of knowledge that guides evidence-based best practices.  As fitness professionals, each piece of new research adds to our knowledge of best exercise prescription.

Providing guidance regarding exercise prescription for the treatment of cognitive impairment can be difficult.  An exact exercise prescription is problematic due to the various types of cognitive impairment studied, the method of assessing cognitive impairment and the type of exercise protocol used in research studies.

Research study questions in this area can be broken down into the following questions:

  • Can exercise/physical activity prevent or delay the onset of the various types of cognitive impairment (mild cognitive impairment, dementia, or Alzheimer’s)?
  • Can exercise/physical activity treat or reverse any of the various types of cognitive impairment (mild cognitive impairment, dementia, or Alzheimer’s)?
  • What is the best exercise prescription for either prevention or treatment?

For current evidence-based summaries of research in this area, click on the links below:

The majority of literature in this area has traditionally focused on aerobic exercise training.  However, recently the role of resistance training alone has been studied.

For example, recently published in the April 2012 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine was a study entitled “Resistance Training Promotes Cognitive and Functional Brain Plasticity in Seniors With Probable Mild Cognitive Impairment”.   This study was conducted at the University of British Columbia and included 86 women aged 70 to 80 years old who already had mild cognitive impairment.

The exercise classes were held twice weekly for 6 months and this training program showed improvements in:  selective attention/conflict resolution; associative memory; and regional patterns of functional brain plasticity.

While the authors of the study indicate that the study included a small number of subjects, and needs to be repeated in a larger group to confirm the value of resistance training in seniors and test for longer-term benefits, they concluded that twice-weekly resistance training is a promising strategy to alter the trajectory of progression to dementia in older adults who already have mild cognitive impairment.

Exercise is one of the most important lifestyle behaviours for good health and successful aging.  Following Canada’s Physical Activity Guide for Older Adults will provide sufficient exercise to influence overall health, including what has been shown to be effective for cognitive function!

The current prescription for resistance training is only 2 times per week for all major muscle groups! For information on starting a resistance training program, see a fitness professional and check out the links below:

Posted in Activities, Psyche, Your Health

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