Weight-Resistance Training: Best to Prevent and Slow Alzheimer’s?By Esther Heerema, About.com GuideJuly 19, 2012
As reported this week at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, the cost of care for individuals with Alzheimer’s in the United States will exceed $1 trillion by 2050. Researchers are working constantly to determine how we can avert this crisis- not only of cost, but of lost memories and lives.
Four different studies were discussed at this conference that provide interesting insights about the role of exercise and how it affects dementia.
In the first study, 120 sedentary older adults without dementia were randomly assigned to either a walking group or a stretching/toning group. After one year, those in the walking group showed a 2% increase in the size of their hippocampus compared to the stretching group. The hippocampus is a part of the brain that controls memories, and it’s one of the earlier places that shrinks and deteriorates in Alzheimer’s. This study demonstrates that the brain of older adults can continue to grow and improve.
In the second study, 86 adults with mild cognitive impairment (a condition where the risk for developing Alzheimer’s is high) were randomly assigned to one of three groups:
Balance & Tone
The results? The weight training group showed a significant improvement in selective attention (as measured by the Stroop Test), conflict resolution and memory. The participants in this group also demonstrated actual improvements in three areas of their brains.
The walking group did show an increase in the scores on one different memory task called the Rey Auditory Visual Learning Test, but did not demonstrate any other improvements or any physical changes in the brain. The balance and toning group demonstrated no improvements.
The researchers concluded that weight-training for those already diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment was an effective way not just to stave off Alzheimer’s, but even to improve the cognitive function and physical health of the brain.
A third study compared how the initial level of cognitive functioning affected the results after participants were assigned to either a weight training group or a balance/toning group. According to the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, the results demonstrated that:
The most improvement came from those who were in the resistance training group and had higher cognitive functioning at the beginning of the study.
For participants with lower cognitive functioning at the beginning of the study, the effects of weight training and balance/tone exercises were about equal.
Overall, participants in the balance/tone exercise group were the least likely to demonstrate improvement and the most likely to decline.