Australian researchers have found even more evidence for exercising into older age, finding people over 55 with Mild Cognitive Impairment can improve their brain functioning with weightlifting.
Carried out by a team from a UNSW’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) and the universities of Sydney and Adelaide, the findings were taken from the Study of Mental and Resistance Training (SMART), which involved 100 community-dwelling adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), aged between 55 and 86.
MCI is a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease, with sufferers experiencing a noticeable reduction in cognitive abilities, including memory loss, although they are still able to live independently.
Participants were divided into one of four groups: resistance exercise and computerized cognitive training; training resistance exercise and a placebo computerized training (watching nature videos); brain training and a placebo exercise program (seated stretching/calisthenics) or placebo physical exercise and placebo cognitive training.
Those in the resistance exercise group were prescribed weightlifting sessions twice a week for six months and asked to work out to at least 80% of their peak strength.
As they got stronger, the amount of weight they lifted on each machine was increased to maintain the intensity at 80%.
The findings showed that increasing muscle strength also improved cognitive function, the first time that a positive causal link has been found between muscle changes as a result of progressive resistance training and brain functioning in older people with MCI.
The results also support earlier research from the SMART trial in which MRI scans revealed that those who weight trained showed an increase in the size of specific areas of the brain, changes that were linked to the cognitive improvements after weightlifting.
Commenting on the findings lead author Dr Yorgi Mavros, from the University of Sydney, said, “The more we can get people doing resistance training like weightlifting, the more likely we are to have a healthier ageing population.”
“The key, however, is to make sure you are doing it frequently, at least twice a week, and at a high intensity so that you are maximizing your strength gains. This will give you the maximum benefit for your brain.”
The results can be found published online in the journal Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.