Recent research from the University of British Columbia (UBC) showed some interesting results in the field of strength training and cognitive benefits for seniors. There has been a lot of previous research that shows the positive effects that aerobic, cardiovascular exercise ( think walking, swimming, dancing ) plays in keeping people alert and mentally sharp into their senior years. Strength training however has not been studied from this point of view. Most strength studies concerning seniors have focused on osteoporosis and the overall effects of muscular strength improvements. In the UBC study, 155 women aged 65 to 75 were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Two of the groups did resistance exercise either once or twice a week while the third group did balance and toning exercise. The researchers ( head researcher Dr Liu-Ambrose ) were able to demonstrate positive cognitive changes of up to 12.6% for the group who participated in the resistance training as opposed to a slight decline in the group who did a balance and toning routine.
The strength training was not terribly complicated. Resistance training machines and free weights, with weight and repetitions slowly and steadily increased over the months of the study. With time, more difficult exercises were introduced so that more neuromotor planning was engaged. Because the exercises can be simple, they are a good alternative for seniors with limited mobility. In addition to the known benefits of bone building and preventing the age related loss of muscle mass, it appears that this type of exercise can specifically help towards preventing decline in mental abilities.
Unfortunately, statistics show that only a low percentage of seniors engage in strength training. This is a shame as better strength training would improve the ability to try other forms of exercise such as cardiovascular and balance training, which are necessary for preventing falls and the myriad problems associated with that trauma. http://www.west4thphysio.com/seniors-health/fall-prevention/
Strength training has multiple benefits beyond the obvious changes in muscle development and bone strengthening and should be encouraged amongst the senior population, perhaps through special classes at community centres and gyms, at any opportunity. Review our osteoporosis series under the blog category Osteoporosis for further exercise and health information.