Which Exercise for Mild Cognitive Impairment?

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Aerobic activity is associated with preserving cognitive function. A small 2017 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society suggests that progressive resistance training (PRT) improves cognitive function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). This type of exercise utilizes free weights, machines, or exercise bands to create resistance that is progressively increased as strength improves.

The study enrolled 100 adults, age 55 or older, with MCI. Participants were divided into four groups who performed either PRT and cognitive training on a computer, “sham” PRT (seated calisthenics) and computerized cognitive training, PRT and “sham” cognitive training (watching videos), or sham PRT and sham cognitive training.

After six months, only patients who engaged in PRT had significantly improved scores on the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive Scale, and 47 percent of them achieved normal scores. Increases in lower body strength were particularly beneficial. Those who benefited weight trained at least two to three days a week and regularly increased the weight to maintain an exercise intensity of 80 percent of peak strength.

More research is needed to prove that PRT improves cognitive ability. In the meantime, adults age 65 or older who are generally fit and have no limiting health conditions should perform resistance training to preserve muscle strength. The CDC recommends doing so twice a week.