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Resistance Exercise May Improve Spatial Awareness and Reaction in Older Adults


Aerobic exercise has been shown to counteract age-related neurological decrements that are associated with cognitive and physical impairments. However, the effects of resistance exercise on cognition, reaction, and neurotrophins are largely unknown. We examined changes in spatial awareness, visual and motor reaction, and circulating brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in response to a resistance exercise intervention in older adults (aged 70.6 +/- 6.1y). Spatial awareness was evaluated before and after training with a Neurotracker perceptual 3-dimensional object tracking device. Peripheral, visual, motor and physical reaction times were evaluated using a Dynavision visuomotor device. Circulating BDNF was assayed. Data were analyzed for clinical significance using magnitude-based inferences calculated from independent t-tests. Clinical interpretations of analyses revealed that resistance exercise training was "likely beneficial" for improving spatial awareness, visual and physical reaction times. Each improved by 40.0%, 14.6%, and 14.0%, respectively. Circulating BDNF and motor reaction time displayed no apparent meaningful changes. Thus, resistance exercise training may be an effective means to preserve or improve spatial awareness and reaction with aging.


Alex’s notes: The hapless truth is that aging is not a graceful process. Brain neurons lose size and the ability to regenerate, and control of our body becomes dysregulated and sluggish. Combined, these changes are the main culprit behind the elderly’s loss of spatial awareness – the ability to perceive and respond to daily stimuli. To date, few if any studies have looked at the effects of resistance exercise on spatial awareness, until now.

The current study was simple and short. It took 25 healthy adults over 60 years of age (average of 70 years) and divided them into a training and non-training (control) group for six weeks. The training group performed a mere two sessions per week with at least 48 hours of recovery between sessions. The training was full-body with 7-8 exercises that targeted every major muscle group, and each exercise was performed for three sets of 8-15 repetitions in an undulating periodized manner. Load was prescribed based on a “moderate” rating of perceived exertion (5-6 on a scale of 10).

Resistance training improved all cognitive variables tested greater than the control. Spatial awareness improved by 40%, visual reaction time by 14.6%, and physical reaction time by 14%. The results are not surprising and common sense would make them seem obvious given the benefits of resistance training, but keep in mind that this is now shown in the data. That is, it is no longer theoretical and we can safely say that resistance training improves spatial awareness in older adults; and in a relatively short time to boot.

Unfortunately, what this study does not tell us is the mechanisms by which resistance training improves spatial awareness. Other studies have shown that exercise can prevent brain atrophy and affect brain structure and function via increased blood flow, neurogenesis, and neurotransmission. So while we can theorize, more research is needed.


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