A recent study published in the journal GeroScience suggests that a combination of cardio/aerobic exercise and strength training may have cognitive benefits for individuals aged 80 years or older. The research involved 184 cognitively healthy individuals in the 85 to 99 age group. The study found that those who engaged in both cardio and strength training exhibited higher cognitive performance compared to sedentary individuals and those who only performed cardio exercise. The cognitive benefits of the combined exercise regimen included improved mental agility, quicker thinking, and enhanced adaptability in thinking processes. The study also highlighted that the duration and intensity of the exercise regimens did not significantly impact the cognitive benefits observed.
The findings of this study emphasize the importance of physical activity, particularly for older adults. Regular physical activity, such as walking, is crucial for older adults to prevent a decline in functionality and avoid the need for nursing home care. Strength training was also highlighted as beneficial for maintaining essential abilities like getting up from the toilet, which are vital for independence.
A brain health coach and director of the FitBrain Program at Pacific Neuroscience Institute cautioned against the risks of a sedentary lifestyle, including muscle loss, reduced physical functioning, increased risk of falls and fractures, and cognitive impairment. He emphasized the importance of incorporating both cardio and strength training exercises to promote overall brain health. While the study did not establish a causal link between the exercise regimens and cognitive function improvement, it is suggested that these exercises could enhance brain health by improving insulin sensitivity, reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and promoting overall activity.
Different types of exercise may affect different areas of the brain. Previous research has shown that resistance training benefits the frontal lobe’s function and structure, while aerobic exercise benefits memory-related brain regions like the hippocampus. Both cardio and aerobic exercises increase heart rate and oxygen consumption, leading to improved heart health and lung function. Examples of cardio/aerobic exercises include walking, running, cycling, swimming, and using cardio equipment like rowing machines, treadmills, and elliptical trainers. On the other hand, strength training involves muscle contraction against external resistance, such as weights or resistance bands, to increase muscle mass, power, joint flexibility, and bone strength.
While the study offers valuable insights into the cognitive benefits of combined cardio and strength training exercises for older adults, it is essential to approach exercise with caution, especially for individuals in their 80s or 90s, to avoid injuries. Seeking guidance from a physical therapist or qualified fitness professional is recommended to ensure the exercise program is appropriate for individual physical functioning levels. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) website provides exercise ideas suitable for older individuals, but consulting a fitness professional before starting any new exercise program is still advisable.