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Resistance training improves strength, muscle mass in older adults

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Resistance training for older adults

Resistance training can increase strength for older adults 25 to 30 percent in a short period of time, finds a study.

University of Michigan researchers say aging adults can gain muscle mass with resistance training. Findings published in the American Journal of Medicine suggest anyone over age 50 can gain from progressive resistance training that can add lean muscle mass and increase strength 25 to 30 percent after an average of 18 to 20 weeks.

Mark Peterson, Ph.D., a research fellow in the U-M Physical Activity and Exercise Intervention Research Laboratory, at the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation says a review of studies show it's possible to improve strength even into the eight or ninth decade of life with resistance training, even for older adults who have been somewhat sedentary.

Getting started

Peterson says it's important to speak with your doctor first and begin using body mass to gain strength. Modified push-ups, standing up from a seated position, squats, Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi are all great ways to get stronger and improve range of motion in preparation for the gym.

Engage a professional for weight training

When it's time to transition to the gym Peterson says it's important to engage a professional trainer that has experience working with aging adults.

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"Working out at age 20 is not the same as at age 70. A fitness professional who understands those differences is important for your safety. In addition, current recommendations suggest that an older individual participate in strengthening exercise two days per week," Peterson says. "Based on the results of our studies, I would suggest that be thought of as the minimum."

Maintaining strength with aging can keep older adults independent. Peterson notes in their study review, one of the most important factors in daily function is strength capacity.

As resistance training progresses, he recommends whole body exercises that target whole muscle groups. Examples include the chest press, rowing and the leg press.

"You should also keep in mind the need for increased resistance and intensity of your training to continue building muscle mass and strength."

Muscle mass declines at a rate of 0.4 pounds a year over age 50, but the study review shows older adults can gain strength with resistance training that should be encouraged for healthy seniors, even those in their 70's and 80's.

The American Journal of Medicine: doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2010.08.020
"Resistance Exercise for the Aging Adult: Clinical Implications and Prescription Guidelines"
Mark D. Peterson, PhD, Paul M. Gordon, PhD, MP