Elderly people facing the first signs of memory loss may be able to protect themselves from full-blown dementia by taking up resistance training, according to a new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia. Seniors who worked out with weights experienced greater improvements in mental functioning, compared to those who participated in aerobics or toning and balance classes. The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, focused on women who did not yet have dementia, but were at high risk as indicated by memory difficulties. For six months, the women participated in 60-minute exercise classes two times a week. Researchers tested their cognitive, or mental, abilities with memory, decision-making and problem-solving tests. It’s not yet known whether elderly men, or women of other ages, would see the same benefits. The researchers are also not certain why strength training improved brain functioning, while aerobic exercise—walking—and toning classes had no effect. “It could be that resistance-training requires more learning and monitoring by its very nature,” Teresa Liu-Ambrose, an assistant professor of physical therapy at the University of British Columbia, said. The term dementia covers a group of disorders that involve cognitive problems, such as memory impairment, and difficulty planning or organizing. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common, and usually occurs in people 60 years of age or older. Up to 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it is the fifth leading cause of death in people over the age of 65.
Elderly people who did resistance training experienced mental improvements.