I was in Vancouver last week and had the privilege of meeting with Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose, a researcher at the University of British Columbia and the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility, who is studying aging, mobility and cognitive function. Initially trained as a physiotherapist, Dr. Liu-Ambrose has a long-standing interest in how exercise can improve the lives of older people. She recently found that seniors who engage in a regular program of resistance, or weight training, improve their cognitive function.
“There is solid evidence that aerobic exercise relates to cognitive improvement. I wanted to look at strength training to see if it was as beneficial,” noted Dr. Liu-Ambrose.
155 people participated in the study (published January 25 in the Archives of Internal Medicine: http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/170/2/170), some of whom trained once a week and some twice a week, for a year. Both groups benefited compared with the control group who were doing a stretch and tone program. Interestingly there was no significant difference in cognitive improvement between the once a week or twice a week groups. The degree of cognitive improvement was 13-14 per cent.
Dr. Liu-Ambrose is still analyzing the study to determine if cognitive improvement gains are different for aerobic versus strength training programs.
I asked Dr. Liu-Ambrose if she had any idea what difference a gain of 13-14 per cent could make in a person’s daily life. In response, she told me about a sub-study in which they gave program participants disposable cameras and asked them to take photos that might describe what it meant to them to be in the program. They were asked to put captions on the photos. Responses were positive, with participants indicating that they were engaging with others more and spending more time with family. One participant took a photo of a bull’s eye on a curling rink with the caption, ‘Not quite out of the game yet’.