In this amazing study on 26 individuals between the age of 83 and 94years, we see yet again the surprisingly effective use of strength training for improving quality of life. This rings true with our experience with older clients at Ocean Fitness. In this study subjects were randomly allocated to either a strength training group or to a non-training control group. Subjects in the training group performed 3 supervised workouts per week for 12 weeks. Each workout = knee extension, leg press, and leg curl, plus 2 upper body exercises, for 3 – 5 sets of 6 – 12 reps. All subjects consumed a protein supplement 2 times per day (including immediately post-workout for the training group) comprising 20g of milk protein per serving.
Improved skeletal muscle mass and strength after heavy strength training in very old individuals. Experimental Gerontology. Bechshøft, R. L., Malmgaard-Clausen, N. M., Gliese, B., Beyer, N., Mackey, A. L., Andersen, J. L., & Holm, L. (2017).
Sarcopenia is a syndrome involving low muscle mass and reduced muscle function, typically observed in an aging person. Sarcopenia involves a generalized loss of muscle rather than a localized loss of muscle or muscle group specific loss of muscle and may follow primarily from disuse atrophy. Recent estimates have suggested that the loss of muscle mass occurs at a rate of 3 – 8% per decade after the age of 30 and that a higher rate of muscle loss occurs in old age. Thus, sarcopenia is a key problem in geriatrics and leads to an increased risk of several adverse health outcomes, including physical disability, poor health-related quality of life and increased mortality.
To prevent sarcopenia, the ACSM recommends that for resistance-training, older adults should perform bi-weekly muscle strengthening activities of 8 – 10 exercises for 10 – 15 repetitions. Interestingly, however, studies have shown that the loss of muscle mass in sarcopenia is only partially correlated with the loss of strength, which appears to be much more rapid. Loss of power, which is defined as the combination of strength and speed appears more rapidly still.
In this study, the training group experienced muscle size increases of 3.4%, strength increases of between 11 and 91%, and leg power increase of 13%. Muscle fibres shifted to a greater increase in fast twitch fibres, which are important for falls prevention, whilst blood pressure was reduced.
The researchers concluded that heavy strength training can increase leg muscle strength and size in very old (83+ years) people, and that the magnitude of the increase in leg muscle size is greater in those individuals with smaller muscle size at the start of the program. The study didn’t mention the methods by which improvements in function could be achieved after accomplishing increased strength and size. However, clinically we see that regular strength training and the benefits listed in this study review allow older people to live much fuller healthier lives with greater confidence and reduced illness. At Ocean Fitness we have trained dozens of clients between the age of 70 and 90 and have seen that amazingly personal bests in strength can still be achieved after 5 years of continuous training.
So the take home message is: “never give up on gradually increasing the resistance in your exercise”.