Resistance exercise, also known as strength training, has been shown to have a number of benefits for individuals with dementia. Dementia is a condition characterized by a decline in cognitive function, which can include memory loss, difficulty with language, and changes in mood or behaviour.
Resistance training should be a primary treatment in people suffering from dementia/AD. One of the main benefits of resistance exercise for individuals with dementia is an improvement in cognitive function. Studies have shown that regular resistance exercise can lead to an increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that is essential for the growth and survival of brain cells [1-4]. This increase in BDNF can help to improve memory, learning, and overall cognitive function in individuals with dementia. This study on subjects with mild cognitive impairments also showed that resistance exercise improves the area of the brain which is directly involved in pathogenesis of the dementia .
In addition to improving cognitive function, resistance exercise has also been shown to improve physical function and muscle quality. Muscle is the largest organ in the human body which releases hormones (known as myokines) and these have beneficial effects on other organs like the brain. As people age, individuals may experience a decline in muscle mass and strength (quality), which can lead to difficulty with activities of daily living but also leads to your muscles releasing inflammatory proteins which can result in neuro-inflammation . Resistance exercise can help to improve muscle strength and function (which can help to improve mobility and independence) as well as a healthy hormonal release benefitting the brain and other organs.
Resistance exercise has also been shown to improve mood and behaviour in individuals with dementia. Studies have found that regular resistance exercise can lead to a decrease in depression and anxiety symptoms, as well as an improvement in overall quality of life . This is likely due to the release of endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that are associated with positive feelings.
Additionally, dementia has been named as “type 3 Diabetes” and studies have highlighted insulin resistance and metabolic dysregulation as an underlying cause for dementia . Resistance exercise improves our insulin sensitivity and improve energy utilization in the brain.
It’s important to note that resistance exercise should be performed under the guidance of a qualified exercise professional, such as an Exercise Physiologist, who can provide an appropriate exercise program tailored to the individual’s needs, abilities and medical conditions.
In summary exercise improves:
✅️Improves the hippocampus (an area of the brain directly involved in dementia).
✅️Promote the growth of new neurons.
✅️Improve brain energy metabolism.
✅️Promotes ketones and lactate which have beneficial effects acting as energy for the brain and sends signals to grow and protect neurons.
✅️Reduces inflammation in the brain which can damage neurons.
To conclude, resistance exercise has been shown to have several benefits for individuals with dementia, including an improvement in cognitive function, physical function, mood and behaviour, and the potential to delay the progression of dementia. Regular resistance exercise is an important part of an overall approach to managing dementia and should be performed under the guidance of a qualified exercise professional such as an exercise physiologist.
1. Marston, K.J., et al., Intense resistance exercise increases peripheral brain-derived neurotrophic factor. J Sci Med Sport, 2017. 20(10): p. 899-903.
2. Fernández-Rodríguez, R., et al., Immediate effect of high-intensity exercise on brain-derived neurotrophic factor in healthy young adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 2022. 11(3): p. 367-375.
3. Marston, K.J., et al., Resistance Exercise-Induced Responses in Physiological Factors Linked with Cognitive Health. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2019. 68: p. 39-64.
4. Wang, S., et al., Exercise Dosage in Reducing the Risk of Dementia Development: Mode, Duration, and Intensity-A Narrative Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health, 2021. 18(24).
5. Broadhouse, K.M., et al., Hippocampal plasticity underpins long-term cognitive gains from resistance exercise in MCI. NeuroImage: Clinical, 2020. 25: p. 102182.
6. Jo, D., et al., A new paradigm in sarcopenia: Cognitive impairment caused by imbalanced myokine secretion and vascular dysfunction. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 2022. 147: p. 112636.
7. González, A., et al., Glucose metabolism and AD: evidence for a potential diabetes type 3. Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, 2022. 14(1): p. 56.