Objectives Resistance training (RT) is a promising strategy to slow or prevent fluid cognitive decline during aging. However, the effects of strength-specific RT programs have received little attention. The purpose of this single-group proof of concept clinical trial was to determine whether a 12-week strength training (ST) program could improve fluid cognition in healthy older adults 60 to 80 years of age, and to explore concomitant physiological and psychological changes. Methods Twenty participants (69.1 ± 5.8 years, 14 women) completed this study with no drop-outs or severe adverse events. Baseline assessments were completed before an initial 12-week control period, then participants were re-tested at pre-intervention and after the 12-week ST intervention. The NIH Toolbox Cognition Battery and standard physical and psychological measures were administered at all three time points. During the 36 sessions of periodized ST (3 sessions per week), participants were supervised by an exercise specialist and challenged via autoregulatory load progression. Results Test-retest reliability over the control period was good for fluid cognition and excellent for crystallized cognition. Fluid composite scores significantly increased from pre- to post-intervention (8.2 ± 6.1%, p < 0.01, d = 1.27), while crystallized composite scores did not (-0.5 ± 2.8%, p = 0.46, d = -0.34). Performance on individual fluid instruments, including executive function, attention, working memory, and processing speed, also significantly improved. Surprisingly, changes in fluid composite scores had small negative correlations with changes in muscular strength and sleep quality, but a small positive correlation with changes in muscular power. Conclusions Thus, improvements in fluid cognition can be safely achieved in older adults using a 12-week high-intensity ST program, but further controlled studies are needed to confirm these findings. Furthermore, the relationship with other widespread physiological and psychological benefits remains unclear.
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