As expected, the people assigned to the exercise-only group had dramatic improvements in their executive function.

Executive function describes the higher-level cognitive skills that we use to control and coordinate our other cognitive abilities and behaviours, in order to plan and carry out goal-oriented behaviour (which covers anything from getting dressed to planning a space mission); decline in executive function is a cardinal sign of dementia.

But contrary to their expectations, the exercise-only group actually did substantially better than the combined group which did resistance exercise training and cognitive exercises. At 6 months they were 60% better than the other group and at 18 months a whopping 74% better.

Resistance training also improved the proportion of people who achieved normal scores on a test of global cognitive function (overall thinking ability), whereas cognitive training had no effect.

The take-home message is that if you want to stave off both physical and mental decline as you get older, you need to work that body hard – those ‘gentle exercise for seniors’ classes just won’t cut it. Older women sometimes feel intimidated by the idea of resistance training. Small exercise studios run by exercise physiologists, or experienced personal trainers who have completed additional education in training older people, are ideal for those who’ve never pumped iron before. You may even be eligible for a Medicare referral to an exercise physiologist; ask your GP.

Remember that your resistance program needs to be challenging – if you can easily do 10 repetitions of an exercise, you’re not lifting a heavy enough weight – and progressive – as soon as an exercise starts to get easier, you switch to a heavier weight, and/or a more difficult variation of the exercise.

By the way, cardiovascular disease is a major risk factor for developing Alzheimers’ and vascular dementia, the two most common forms of dementia, and it’s highly probable that the same dietary factors that cause heart disease also contribute to brain disease. As the old saying goes, you can’t out-exercise a bad diet, so be sure to couple your resistance exercise program with a heart-healthy eating plan.

For more details read Robyn’s full article here.

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