Strength training increased the brain function of a group of older women according to a new study published this month in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Significant improvements were seen in executive functioning skills, including selective attention and conflict resolution. Strength training may be an effective way to prevent the decline in mental function associated with aging.
The take home messages:
- strength training may reduce the decline of brain function. It does this by actually improving executive functioning skills like selective attention and conflict resolution. Lift weights and you will be better able to multitask, be productive, and enjoy work, play, and life.
- How long: it may take a while (12 months vs. 6 months) to see the effects on cognitive functioning, but the effects are statistically significant
- How often: it does not matter if you strength train once or twice a week–both schedules benefit the brain. The difference in benefits between once or twice a week is small. So get moving! However often you can. No amount is too little!
Cognitive decline among older adults is a pressing health care issue. Many adults dread, fear, or already live with the realities of mild cognitive impairment and dementia. Research into pharmacological interventions (i.e. drugs) continues and we search for “cures”. But the cognitive decline of old age need not be our destiny. The Canadian researchers were motivated to find effective primary prevention strategies for age-associated cognitive decline.
The researchers noted that previous studies indicated that physical activity might limit our spiral down towards forgetfulness and senility. These previous studies did not differentiate between aerobic activity and resistance training. Further investigations into aerobic exercise (running, walking, whatever that gets your heart pumping) have shown a that aerobic training enhances brain and cognitive function. Aerobic exercise was even shown to spur the creation of new brain cells that appear biochemically resistant to stress (and we all know stress is a major component of aging.)
Less research had been done on the effect of strength training. A promising study in 2007 showed that seniors improved memory performance and verbal concept formation after resistance training. ¹ The researchers asked themselves if perhaps strength training improved a wider range of brain functions.
The researchers studied the effect of resistance (strength) training on brain function.