Elderly women may get a memory boost from lifting weights, according to new findings in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Researchers enrolled 77 women between ages 70 and 80 who had complained of memory issues and were diagnosed as having "probable" mild cognitive impairment in a six-month exercise program:
- Participants were assigned to either a strength training class, a walking program, or a basic balance and toning class that they took part in for one hour twice per week.
- Participants were required to perform standard verbal and visual memory tests, and decision-making and problem-solving tasks.
- One-third of the women also underwent a functional MRI before and after the study to measure alterations in brain activity.
The study found "significant" cognitive improvement among the strength-training group compared to the balance and toning group. Although the aerobics group experienced a significant boost in physical wellness compared to the balance and toning group, the women enrolled did not show the same mental benefits as the strength-training group. The study also detected functional changes in areas of the brain's cortex associated with cognitive behavior in women who had lifted weights.
Study co-author Teresa Liu-Ambrose, a professor at the University of British Columbia's Center for Hip Health and Mobility and the Brain Research Center, says she is not sure why strength-training is the most effective exercise method in terms of memory. However, it could be that lifting weights requires more cognitive involvement than walking, which is "much more natural for most," she says.
Although Liu-Ambrose cautioned that the findings might not apply to other age groups or men, "I would say that overall physical activity of this sort is a pretty promising strategy, because it's one of the few interventions that can be delivered globally, and it's pretty inexpensive compared with other approaches" (Mozes, HealthDay, 4/23; Smith, MedPage Today, 4/23).