In the News: Does pumping iron twice a week keep the mind sharp and prevent falls?

In the News: Does pumping iron twice a week keep the mind sharp and prevent falls?

CHHM research is grabbing the attention of national and international media. Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose, and her team at the Aging, Mobility, and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, affiliated with the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility and the Centre for Brain Health, published findings from an interesting, and potentially game-changing study. Discover what news outlets, such as the New York Times, CBC's Quirks & Quarks, The Globe and Mail, CBC's The National (filmed at CHHM's Exercise Prescription Suite) and Metro News are reporting on the exciting research.

What's the News?

Centre for Hip Health and Mobility core researcher Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose and a team of researchers published findings from a 12-month randomized control trial assessing whether resistance training lowers the progression of white matter lesions in older women.

White matter is the material that passes information and makes connections from different regions of the brain. Lesions, or holes, can begin to develop in the white matter of our brains in late middle age. These lesions first come without symptoms, but if they widen and multiply, our white matter decreases in size, and cognitive function can be adversely affected.

We know that cognitive impairment and falls significantly increase illness and death in older adults1,2. Each year, millions of older adults experience a life-changing fall. Scientists recognize that falls, and gait changes, can be early signs of subsequent functional decline. Falls result in significant risk for hospitalization, institutionalization, and even death. 

Both cognitive impairment and falls are associated with white matter lesions3,4, which are are common among older adults5. Finding interventions that prevent or slow the progression of white matter lesions will be important as our population ages. Investigating and developing techniques to preserve the cognitive function and mobility in older adults is timely and critical.

Encouraging studies have shown that higher levels of physical activity, such as walking, can reduce white matter lesion progression in older adults without dementia6. We also know that between the two broad, but distinct, forms of exercise, aerobic (e.g. running) and resistance training (e.g. lifting weights), resistance training has a beneficial effect on cognitive function and mobility7. But does resistance training also reduce the progression of white matter lesions?

With knowledge from the literature, and a big question, Dr. Liu-Ambrose and her team set to investigating whether or not resistance training could also lower the progression of white matter lesions among older women.

Dr. Liu-Ambrose already had a large pool of ready participants­–– a group of generally healthy women between the ages of 65 and 75 enrolled in a brain health study­. Of the larger pool, the team selected 54 participants whose brain scans showed the presence of white matter lesions to participate in the second study.

There were three groups; one group participated in resistance training classes twice per week, one group did balance and toning twice per week, and one group did resistance training once per week for a year. At the end of the trial all participants had another brain scan, and their gait and walking ability was re-assessed.

It turns out that engaging in resistance training just twice a week can make a difference. While there was some growth in white matter lesions among the women who had done resistance training twice per week, there was significantly lower growth in the number and size of lesions than among the group that did balance and toning. The twice-weekly weight-lifters’ gaits were also quicker and smoother than the others.

 The other two groups– the women who had stretched and toned, or only did weight training once a week displayed continued growth in both the size and the number of white matter lesions.

 Interesting, and potentially game-changing studies such as this one do not go unnoticed. Lead researcher, Dr. Liu-Ambrose, the director of the Aging, Mobility, and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, a lab that is affiliated with the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility and the Centre for Brain Health, and this exciting study were featured in the mainstream media across North America. You can read an article on the New York Times blog here.

 Congratulations Dr. Liu-Ambrose and team!


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Bolandzadeh N, Davis JC, Tam R et al. The association between cognitive function and white matter lesion location in older adults: A systematic review. BMC Neurol 2012;12:126. CrossRef,PubMed,Web of Science® Times Cited: 13 UBC eLink

5.  Kuo HK, Lipsitz LA. Cerebral white matter changes and geriatric syndromes: Is there a link? J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2004;59A:818–826. CrossRef UBC eLink

Podewils LJ, Guallar E, Beauchamp N et al. Physical activity and white matter lesion progression: Assessment using MRI. Neurology 2007;68:1223–1226. CrossRef,PubMed,Web of Science® Times Cited: 13 UBC eLink

Colcombe S, Kramer AF. Fitness effects on the cognitive function of older adults: A meta-analytic study. Psycholl Sci 2003;14:125–130.
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