A new study shows that an exercise program that features resistance training improves the cognitive functioning of older women.
Over a six-month period, researchers from Vancouver Coastal Health and the University of British Columbia followed 86 senior women with mild cognitive impairment.
The randomized controlled trial compared resistance and aerobic training and their ability to improve executive cognitive functions necessary for independent living, such as attention, memory, problem solving, and decision making.
The trial also assessed the effect of both types of exercise on associative memory performance and corresponding functional brain plasticity, said lead researcher Teresa Liu-Ambrose, Ph.D., lead researcher of the study, which was published in the April 23 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.
Both types of exercise were performed twice a week for six months. Participants were measured with a series of cognitive tests and brain plasticity was assessed using functional MRI.
The results showed resistance training significantly improved executive cognitive functions, associative memory performance, and functional brain plasticity. In contrast to previous studies in healthy older adults, aerobic training did not demonstrate any significant effect on cognitive function and brain plasticity, the researcher notes.
“There is much debate as to whether cognitive function can be improved once there is noticeable impairment,” said Liu-Ambrose. “What our results show is that resistance training can indeed improve both your cognitive performance and your brain function.
“What is key is that the training will improve two processes that are highly sensitive to the effects of aging and neurodegeneration — executive function and associative memory — functions which are often impaired in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.”
This work builds on the same research team’s Brain Power Study, published in the January 2010 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine and July 2011 issue of Neurobiology of Aging.
Those findings demonstrated that 12 months of once- or twice-weekly progressive strength training improved executive cognitive function and functional brain plasticity in healthy women ages 65- to 75 years old and provided lasting benefits.
Coinciding with the latest study, the team developed a YouTube video that shows the resistance training exercises used in the study.
“Exercise is attractive as a prevention strategy for dementia as it is universally accessible and cost-effective,” said Liu-Ambrose. “By developing this YouTube video we can help translate our findings directly to the senior population and fitness instructors who are working with them.”