The effect of three different exercise training modalities on cognitive and physical function in a healthy older population

Coetsee, Carla ; Terblanche, Elmarie (2017-08)

CITATION: Coetsee, C. & Terblanche, E. 2017. The effect of three different exercise training modalities on cognitive and physical function in a healthy older population. European Review of Aging and Physical Activity, 14:13, doi:10.1186/s11556-017-0183-5.

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Background Older adults are encouraged to participate in regular physical activity to counter the age-related declines in physical and cognitive health. Literature on the effect of different exercise training modalities (aerobic vs resistance) on these health-related outcomes is not only sparse, but results are inconsistent. In general, it is believed that exercise has a positive effect on executive cognitive function, possibly because of the physiological adaptations through increases in fitness. Indications are that high-intensity interval training is a potent stimulus to improve cardiovascular fitness, even in older adults; however, its effect on cognitive function has not been studied before. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to compare the effects of resistance training, high-intensity aerobic interval training and moderate continuous aerobic training on the cognitive and physical functioning of healthy older adults. Methods Sixty-seven inactive individuals (55 to 75 years) were randomly assigned to a resistance training (RT) group (n = 22), high-intensity aerobic interval training (HIIT) group (n = 13), moderate continuous aerobic training (MCT) group (n = 13) and a control (CON) group (n = 19) for a period of 16 weeks. Cognitive function was assessed with a Stroop task and physical function with the Timed-Up-and-Go (TUG) and submaximal Bruce treadmill tests. Results No significant GROUP x TIME interaction was found for Stroop reaction time (P > .05). The HIIT group showed the greatest practical significant improvement in reaction time on the information processing task, i.e. Stroop Neutral (ES = 1.11). MCT group participants had very large practical significant improvements in reaction time on the executive cognitive tasks, i.e. Stroop Incongruent and Interference (ES = 1.28 and 1.31, respectively). The HIIT group showed the largest practically significant increase in measures of physical function, i.e. walking endurance (ES = 0.91) and functional mobility (ES = 0.36). Conclusions MCT and RT proved to be superior to HIIT for the enhancement of older individuals’ executive cognitive function; whereas HIIT were most beneficial for improvement in information processing speed. HIIT also induced the largest gains in physical function.

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