Study Finds Resistance Training is Essential for Older Adults

Recent research has found that resistance training is effective in helping older patients combat loss of muscle and mobility, promote healthy life expectancy, and more. Even in healthy patients, aging naturally causes one to lose muscle mass and strength. This can result in decreased independence and increased joint pain and physiological vulnerability. Though resistance training may not be a part of every older adult’s lifestyle, a new position statement published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests that it may be essential in improving their overall health.

“When you poll people on if they want to live to 100 years old, few will respond with a ‘yes’,” said lead author Maren Fragala, Ph.D., director of scientific affairs at Quest Diagnostics.

“The reason mainly being that many people associate advanced age with physical and cognitive decline, loss of independence and poor quality of life,” added senior author Mark Peterson, Ph.D., M.S., FACSM, an associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Michigan Medicine.

The progressive loss of muscle mass that occurs during the aging process is known as sarcopenia. The severity of sarcopenia varies based on genetics, physical health, and many other factors. Fragala explained that although aging naturally causes one to lose muscle mass, their findings suggest that resistance training, or exercise designed to enhance muscular endurance, is effective in combatting the effects of aging.

“The exciting part about this position statement is that it provides evidence-based recommendations for resistance training in older adults to promote health and functional benefits, while preventing and minimizing fears,” she explained.

The Benefits of Resistance Training

The position statement is a critical review of relevant literature regarding resistance training in patients aged 50 years or older. In this review, the researchers found that resistance training is correlated to increases in skeletal muscle mass even in patients 85 years of age and older. They also found that resistance training counteracted age-related changes in muscle contraction, hypertrophy, power, and mobility. These changes were observed in patients with chronic diseases as well, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The researchers also found that resistance training is safe in older adults who are healthy, frail, and diagnosed with disease. In a review of resistance training’s effect in the frailest and oldest patient populations, the team found only one case of shoulder pain out of 2,544 subjects in 20 different studies. They note that proper program design is required in resistance training for certain older adults, for instance, those with hypertension should take pause in performing exercises that sharply elevate blood pressure.

They also claim that resistance training should be prescribed in combination with aerobic training, being that these two types of exercise bring about different benefits. For example, resistance training benefits the patient’s neuromuscular functions, whereas aerobic exercise promotes cardiovascular benefits. In addition, the authors note that both improvements in strength and aerobic fitness are correlated with lower mortality in older populations.

This work is supported by the National Strength and Condition Association, a non-profit organization devoted to advancing strength and conditioning training globally.

“Too few of older Americans participate in resistance training, largely because of fear, confusion and a lack of consensus to guide implementation,” Peterson concluded. “By having this consensus statement supported by the National Strength and Condition Association, we hope it will have a positive impact on empowering healthier aging.”