Older people who do regular resistance training could be improving their mental functioning and reducing their risk of dementia, according to new Canadian research.
Over the course of six months, University of British Columbia researchers compared the cognitive skills of 28 elderly women who did weight training twice a week with 30 who did aerobic training, as well as 28 who did balancing exercises.
The researchers found the women in the weight training group, who were aged between 70 and 80 and had mild cognitive impairment (MCI), performed best on a test of conflict resolution, attention span and memory.
Studies show people with MCI are more likely to develop dementia.
The researchers, who presented their findings at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Vancouver, found the weightlifters had specific changes in the memory regions of the brain. The aerobic training group did not have the same improvements.
"We found that the aerobic training group had improved performance on a different memory task called the Rey Auditory Visual Learning Test," lead researcher Lindsay Nagamatsu, a PhD candidate at the university, said in a media release.
"So both exercise groups improved their memory scores, but on different types of memory. More research is needed to determine the differential effects of these two types of exercise training."
A separate study by Dr Nader Fallah, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia, also found older people who did resistance training performed better in cognitive tests than people who did balance and tone exercises.
Glenn Rees, the CEO of Alzheimer's Australia, told ninemsn that researchers are aware of the benefits of strength training.
"It improves brain structure and function and research seems to suggest it regulates insulin levels in the brain, which are known to be associated with dementia risk," he said.
But Rees said older Australians needn't stop aerobic exercise to take up weights.
"It's important when we're talking to people about exercise that we don't limit them to one thing," he said.
"People need to do things that they are comfortable with and seem to be helping them. Resistance may be particularly positive but I'd be equally encouraging people to go jogging or walking or whatever suits them."
There are almost 280,000 Australians living with dementia.