Strength Training Key to Preventing Cognitive Decline

Pumping iron isn’t just about sculpting a beautiful, lean physique anymore. Several small studies completed this year and presented at the 2012 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference found that resistance training offers significant benefits linked to the prevention of cognitive decline.

The studies were comprised of 150 individuals or less, but each unveiled strong evidence that resistance training – with weights or bands – improved cognitive executive function and associated memory – the two traits most linked to dementia.

In previous studies cardiovascular exercise was linked to improved cognitive function in older adults; however this is the first time resistance training has been put to the test. Resistance training was previously linked with improved mobility, bone density maintenance and increased stability in older adults. Even more interesting was the finding that subjects who began the study with a higher cognitive baseline also gained benefits, in fact they saw the most benefits, from the exercise.

The lead investigator of one study, Dr. Teresa Liu Ambrose, told CNN.com, “You would think if you had more impairment, you would have more improvement, but this says the opposite. This highlights that resistance training improves cognition, but you really have to consider a person’s cognitive abilities.”

If you have been resisting visits to the weight room, it may be time to reconsider all that it can do for you. It can be easy to fall into a habit, albeit a good one, of spin class twice a week or regular racquet ball games with friends, but resistance training needs to be a part of your routine as well. Exercise – both cardio and strength – keep you young and vibrant in body, mind and spirit. And it’s not just about you – it’s about the people around you – family, friends, kids, grandkids – the better you care for yourself now, the more quality time you will have with those you love.

Alzheimer’s disease is estimated to affect more than 5.4 million Americans today and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Although genetics play a role in the disease, lifestyle is a factor in some cases – through a preventive health lifestyle, you can minimize the impact of the disease or inhibit it altogether.

One of the researchers told CNN.com, “We accept that exercise is the golden bullet – but we need to identify who might benefit the most from what exercise.” I find this statement…”odd” – exercise is the golden bullet – what is there to “accept”? The concept simply needs to be embraced because everyone can benefit from exercise in multiple ways – science doesn’t have to tell you that.  Make resistance training (try TRX, if you hate weights) and cardio part of your weekly routine. For general health, try to include activity 5 days a week, with at least 2 to 3 days dedicated to resistance training and 3 to 5 days to cardio. If you are short on time, consider interval training that incorporates weights and cardio, to maximize your effort, time and results.

And remember, a healthy diet plays a role in your mental and physical health as well. Diet and exercise go hand in hand for a successful, healthy lifestyle.

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