Aerobic exercise training has been shown to attenuate cognitive decline and reduce brain atrophy with advancing age. The extent to which resistance exercise training improves cognition and prevents brain atrophy is less known, and few studies include long-term follow-up cognitive and neuroimaging assessments. We report data from a randomized controlled trial of 155 older women, who engaged in 52 weeks of resistance training (either once- or twice-weekly) or balance-and-toning (twice-weekly). Executive functioning and memory were assessed at baseline, 1-year follow-up (i.e., immediately post-intervention), and 2-year follow-up. A subset underwent structural magnetic resonance imaging scans at those time points. At 2-year follow-up, both frequencies of resistance training promoted executive function compared to balance-and-toning (standardized difference [d]=.31-.48). Additionally, twice-weekly resistance training promoted memory (d=.45), reduced cortical white matter atrophy (d=.45), and increased peak muscle power (d=.27) at 2-year follow-up relative to balance-and-toning. These effects were independent of one another. These findings suggest resistance training may have a long-term impact on cognition and white matter volume in older women.
Keywords: Aging; Brain plasticity; Cognitive plasticity; Neuroimaging; Physical activity; Randomized controlled trial.