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Cognitive decline among persons 65 years or older is a major health care issue. Effective treatment with medication remains mostly elusive. So, there is an emphasis on finding effective primary prevention strategies for cognitive decline that would greatly benefit individuals and society.
It has long been known that physical activity slows or prevents cognitive decline. Researchers have attempted to find out what type of physical activity is most effective in preventing this brain decline. Resistance training is surfacing as the most likely candidate.
One way that cognition might improve as a result of resistance training is through the muscle release of myokines. These messenger molecules are released into the bloodstream to travel to all organ systems including the brain where they have a positive effect on brain function
A recent meta-analysis showed a positive effect of resistance training on composite cognitive scores, cognitive screening measures, and measures of executive function, but no effect on measures of working memory. This may be due to the cognitive demands of resistance training, which requires planning and focusing on the details of lifting weights and body positioning. This form of attention training may explain why overall cognition and executive function are improved while working memory, which does not play an important role in resistance training, is not improved.
Yoon DH, Lee JY, Song W. Effects of Resistance Exercise Training on Cognitive Function and Physical Performance in Cognitive Frailty: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Nutr Health Aging. 2018;22(8):944-951. doi: 10.1007/s12603-018-1090-9. PMID: 30272098.
Landrigan JF, Bell T, Crowe M, Clay OJ, Mirman D. Lifting cognition: a meta-analysis of effects of resistance exercise on cognition. Psychol Res. 2020 Jul;84(5):1167-1183. doi: 10.1007/s00426-019-01145-x. Epub 2019 Jan 9. PMID: 30627769.