Resistance-Exercise and Aging

For the aging individual, exercise is associated with an array of benefits that support a longer life span. A recent study supports its connection to protecting and enhancing brain function. In 2016 scientists released their findings of a controlled trial study that investigated the effects of resistance training on cognitive function in older adults.

Resistance training, also called strength training, is exercise that employs weights, machines, bands or other devices that work key muscle groups. The researchers wanted to determine whether cognitive improvement occurred as a result of either increased aerobic capacity or increased muscle strengthening.

Although both programs improved whole body muscle strength and aerobic capacity as well, the study team found, however, that only the enhanced strength scores, but not the enhanced aerobic scores, were significantly associated with improvements in cognition. While the exact reason for these beneficial effects remain unknown, it is clear that it is strength-related gains from resistance exercise that cause cognitive benefits.

Most medical professionals continue recommending aerobic exercise, yet fail to understand the value and benefits of resistance exercise, especially for the aging population.

This trial showing the superior cognitive benefits of strength training adds to a wealth of past evidence that supports the value of strength exercise in inhibiting a condition known as sarcopenia (i.e.: a degenerative, progressive loss of skeletal muscle mass usually 0.5-1.0% loss per year after age fifty), and also cognitive decline and the onset of various neurodegenerative diseases (i.e.: conditions/diseases resulting in a degeneration within the nervous system which includes the brain).

Unfortunately, despite the many known benefits of exercise for the older adult, the majority of them do not exercise regularly.

The first step, therefore, to motivating older adults to exercise is educating them about the benefits of exercise with a strong emphasis on the outcomes that can be expected if exercise occurs regularly.

When prescribing an exercise program, it is important to consider the elderly person’s medical history, his functional status in terms of cardiovascular and musculoskeletal fitness and body composition. For example, if the individual has knee pain, performing weight bearing activities, with weights, may not be appropriate.

Finally, there is strong evidence indicating older adults can exercise safely and that regular exercise has both physical and mental health benefits.

Incidentally, a definition of aerobic is a form of exercise that does not use weight bearing devices, but rather free movement such as jumping jacks, push-ups, arm twirls, etc.

Quotable Quote: “Strike a balance between confidence and humility – enough confidence to know that you can make a real difference, and enough humility to ask for help” (anon.)/

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