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July 24, 2017

Resistance Training In Older Adults

Resistance Training In Older Adults

Resistance Training to Maintain Quality of Life

It’s hard to enjoy the Golden Years if you lose muscular strength. Resistance training can prevent the age related loss of muscle seen with aging. Muscle strength is a key to a high quality of life. It is difficult to enjoy a high quality of life in the older years if you are not mobile and able to do things physically. The stronger you are, the more you can do.

What changes occur to our bodies and musculoskeletal systems as we age?  And, what can be done to minimize, prevent, and even restore the loss of function that accompanies aging?  We will focus on the benefits of resistance training in this article as it is the form of exercise that will improve quality of life in the later years more than the other forms of exercise.

Age-Related Changes of the Musculoskeletal System

The most noticeable change that occur to the musculoskeletal system associated with aging is a loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia) accompanied with increased body fat, and with that comes a loss of strength, and therefore function.  Also, neural stimulation of muscle diminishes especially in type 2 muscle fibers which are important for muscle strength. Type 2 muscle fibers are used in more explosive movements (getting out of a chair), whereas type 1 muscle fibers are used during endurance activities like walking.

Bone density also declines, and in men too, not just women, increasing the risk of fracture.  Osteoporotic fractures many times are associated with physical impairment and disability. One half of those who sustain an osteoporotic hip fracture will die within 2 years of the fracture. Such a hip fracture is an ominous sign that the body is failing.

Now, here is the good news.  These adverse changes to health and function are not etched in stone.  The musculoskeletal system adapts in response to strength or resistance training – becoming stronger in the process.  The ability of the musculoskeletal system to adapt to resistance/strength training is not reduced because of aging.

What does that mean?  It means that no matter how old you are you can become stronger than you currently are.  Studies on older sedentary individuals have shown increases in strength in the magnitude of two and three fold following resistance training. Imagine what you can do if you become two to three times stronger in your later years. It opens up a whole range of possibility of activities that you can do to better enjoy the Golden Years. 

Adaptations Following Resistance Training

  • Muscle strength improves.
  • Muscle power improves.
  • Muscle endurance improves.
  • Muscle fiber size increases.
  • Resting metabolic rate increases.
  • Body fat decreases.
  • Bone mineral density increases.
  • Physical function increases.

The adaptations to a resistance program will be greater in the presence of healthy testosterone levels. So it is a good idea to have your testosterone level checked and have those levels optimized if necessary prior to starting a resistance training program.

Though aerobic exercise is also important, increases in muscle mass and strength only occur with resistance training.  Therefore, it is essential to perform strength/resistance training on a regular basis – a minimum of twice a week.

Guidelines for Beginning Resistance Training in Older Individuals

  • Older individuals should be evaluated and screened by either a physician or fitness expert before starting a resistance training program.
  • Receive instruction on how to use each piece of equipment.
  • Warm up for at least 5 minutes prior to resistance training.  Include calisthenics and aerobic exercise.
  • Perform flexibility exercise before and after each training session.
  • Perform resistance exercise within your pain free range of motion.
  • Rest at least 48 hours between resistance training sessions.

See related articles.

“Get Fit with Body Bar Exercises”

“Exercise and Cancer”

“The Benefits of Body Weight Exercises”

“Exercise for the Ailing Heart”

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

  1. Totally agree, I’m a 52 year old personal trainer who is also stronger than i ever was at 25! bodyweight and free weight training combined with good cardio, balance and flexibility program is the way to go.

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