Physical exercise appears to be an effective strategy to improve or maintain cognitive function. Resistance training (or strength training, such as weight lifting) and aerobic exercise each appear to have cognitive benefits for older adults, for those who are cognitively healthy and, possibly, for those experiencing cognitive decline. It is unclear, however, which forms of exercise are most beneficial, or whether different types of exercise convey different benefits. A forthcoming study in the Journal of Aging Research builds on existing research on the cognitive benefits of exercise by examining the effects of resistance training and aerobic training on a group of older women diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.
For the study, researchers recruited women between the ages of 70 and 80 in Vancouver, British Columbia. All 86 participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a resistance training group, an aerobic training group, and a control group. Each group met twice weekly for six months. The resistance and aerobics groups performed increasingly demanding strength tasks and outdoor walking, respectively, while the control group participated in light stretching, balance, and relaxation sessions to control for potential influences such as social interaction or travel to the training center. Participants were given a variety of cognitive tests before and after the six-month training period.
At the end of the six-month period, the aerobic group performed significantly better on one of the verbal memory tests than those in the control group, and both the resistance and aerobic groups performed better than the control group on a spatial memory test, with significantly faster reaction times in a test of spatial recall. No differences were identified between groups at the three-month halfway point in the study, suggesting that the cognitive benefits of physical exercise may require fairly regular or intensive activity.
Nagamatsu LS, Chan A, Davis JC, et al. Physical activity improves verbal and spatial memory in older adults with probable mild cognitive impairment: a 6-month randomized controlled trial. Journal of Aging Research (2013); 2013: 10 pages.