I stumbled across an article in a German medical journal that reviewed strength training in the elderly. Well, over half my patients probably fall in the category of “elderly,” so, I thought I’d summarize it briefly here. I addressed this in my book, and the conclusions reached in the article reaffirm my argument for resistance training as an important component of fitness across all age groups, and gender.
The review covered medical studies over the past five years that collectively totaled thousands of participants.
Without strength training, we begin losing muscle mass from our 30th year to our 50th year in a gradual fashion, but, from 50 years of age and on wards there is an acceleration of lean muscle mass of 15% per decade, which may approach 30% by the 8th decade. Currently, only about 10-15% of the elderly do resistance training, which is unfortunate.
A common misconception is that there are significant side effects to resistance training in the elderly, most commonly that of musculoskeletal injury; however, in the studies reviewed, the adverse effects of exercise didnt’ seem to be commonly reported.
The studies show that resistance training will reverse the age-related loss of muscle tissue, increase bone density, counteracting to some extent osteoporosis, and can even decrease the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
So, then, how much exercise?
Three times a week; 3-4 sets of 10 repetitions per muscle group at an 80% intensity of what you can lift with one repetition.
I would suggest working with a trainer, to get started, at the YMCA, or other local fitness center; especially if you’re a bit short in the weight-lifting experience department. I’ve read other literature that suggests that multiple sets are not necessary if the first set it performed to muscle failure, and that subsequent sets are of diminishing return.
Resistance training does not have to mean free weights, although three are convenient dumbbell stacks in which you can dial a specific weight. Other options would include a set of resistance bands of varying resistances, and of course a circuit weight machine (not free weights).
I think that a lot of elderly folks, especially women, discount the importance of resistance training, as a tool for improving the quality of life of those golden years.
Weight management, aerobic exercise, and strength training are all components of a healthy lifestyle, longevity, and quality-of-life.