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Seniors Benefit From Strength Training

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

An updated Cochrane review finds that progressive resistance muscle training improves strength in older adults and enhances their ability to do daily tasks such as walking, climbing steps or getting out of a chair.

This form of exercise has people working against resistance that increases as the muscle gets stronger, usually using exercise machines, free weights or elastic bands. It fills a need in the older population.

“It is well established that as people get older, they begin to lose muscle mass which can impact on their ability to do some activities of daily living,” said lead author Chiung-ju Liu, Ph.D., of the department of occupational therapy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Liu and his co-author looked at 121 randomized controlled trials involving 6,700 participants from as young as 60 to older than 80.

In addition to showing that older adults who exercised two to three times a week become stronger, the researchers also found improved performance on measurements of simple tasks, such as standing up from a chair more quickly. Other studies have shown that activity is important to continued good health as a person ages.

Those with osteoarthritis also reported reductions in pain following progressive resistance training.

“We saw the most improvement in muscle strength, which is not a big surprise,” Liu said. “In addition, we found that this improvement translates into doing daily activities from shopping to walking around the neighborhood more easily.”

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The updated review appears in the current issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates research in all aspects of health care. Systematic reviews draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing trials on a topic.

Small sample sizes have limited much of the research on strength training in older adults. The review combined many of these studies together to overcome sample size concerns.

“By doing the review, we were able to pull all of the evidence together,” Liu said. “This allowed us to get a better picture of the impacts of progressive resistance training. In addition, we were able to include a much larger age range, between 60 and 80, than the individual studies.”

One of the surprising outcomes of the review was that these improvements continued into later years.

“We found that older adults can benefit from this type of exercise even at the age of 80, and even with some types of health condition including arthritis and after hip surgery,” Liu said. “However, we recommend exercise cautiously to seniors. They should consult with a health professional or an exercise professional to prevent exercise injuries.”

“This is a solid review that reinforces our current understanding,” said Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, Ph.D., head of the department of kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “It underscores the importance of resistance training to the health and independence of older adults. It gives clear evidence for initiating physical activity in this group.”

Chodzko-Zajko, who had no affiliation with the review, suggests 30 minutes a day or 150 minutes a week of moderately vigorous exercise that includes resistance training for older adults.

“This confirmed the positive benefits people of all ages accumulate by including progressive resistance training as a component of a well-rounded exercise program,” he said. “For the vast majority, the health risks of being sedentary are much greater than the health risks of a well balanced exercise program.”