People in the oldest stages of life who regularly engage in aerobic activity and strength training exercise perform better on cognitive tests than those who are either sedentary or participate only in aerobic exercise.
This is the key finding of a new study.
184 cognitively healthy individuals between the ages of 85 and 99 were evaluated. Each participant reported their exercise habits and underwent a comprehensive battery of neuropsychological tests that were designed to assess various dimensions of cognitive function.
Researchers found that those who incorporated both aerobic exercise, such as swimming and cycling, and strength exercise, such as weight lifting, into their routines – regardless of intensity and duration – had better mental agility, a faster thinking and a greater ability to change or adapt one’s thinking.
Using a well-known cognitive screening tool called the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, which provides a balanced view of many aspects of cognition, it was found that people who did not engage in any physical exercise scored lower than those who did both exercise cardio as well as strength training.
In addition, the group that did both types of exercises did better on specific cognitive tasks, such as symbol coding, beyond just the screening results.
It’s important to note that while the study does establish a correlation between a mix of aerobic exercise and strength training and higher scores on cognitive tests, the study design did not allow the scientists to determine a causal relationship.
However, the results suggest that a varied exercise routine is associated with improved cognitive functioning in people who are 80 and older.
Why does it matter
The aging of the global population makes cognitive health a pressing issue. The number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the US is projected to reach nearly 14 million by 2060, rising from just over 6 million in 2020.
The findings not only offer hope for healthier aging, but also present a practical approach to maintaining or even improving cognitive health in the last decades of life.
These results are not just numbers; they represent real-world thinking skills that can affect the quality of life of those entering their golden years.
The fact that nearly 70% of study participants were already exercising before enrolling in our study challenges the stereotype that old age and physical inactivity must go hand in hand.
The findings provide an evidence base for health care providers to consider recommending a mixed aerobic and strength exercise regimen as part of their patients’ health plans. Studies show that when cognitive decline is slowed, people spend less on health care and have a better quality of life.