As young men and women, we tend to participate in all kinds of exercise and physically demanding activities without much thought. As we get older, some might start to question the relevance of continuing with such pursuits. People often believe that because they get older, their exercise programmes should change, becoming more gentle and less vigorous. However this is not always the case….
When we get older, we do lose muscle mass, range of motion and overall strength, but the fact is that people of an older age can get stronger when performing strength and resistance training exercises. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research recently conducted a study where young and older people completed the same exercise programme that lasted for 10 weeks. After comparing the results, the older people’s results were very similar to the younger participants.
A total of 26 older adults with an average age of 65 years participated against 23 young men with an average age of 29 years. The work-out program included various exercises like pull-downs, leg presses and bench presses. These activities had to be performed between two and four sets of eight to fourteen repetitions in each set. Each of the participants were tested as to how strong they were during a leg press, their muscle mass, as well as their level of muscle activation.
Results from this study were astonishing! Both age groups showed an increase in strength and muscle mass. Although the younger participants showed a slightly higher increase in muscle mass in their legs, the older participants also showed muscle gains in their legs. The thickness of the vastus lateralis increased significantly as well. However, what is important to note from this study is that the participants in both age groups increased their strength by the same percentage. This proves that the body can still build strength even as we age.
In terms of muscle activation, the older men achieved a greater increase in muscle activation (measured by surface EMG) when they flexed against no resistance. The older participants also achieved better muscle activation than the younger men.
Importance of Strength Training for Older Adults
- Bone density: When you pick up a weight or press against a wall with your arms, stress is placed on the bones. This causes the bones to strengthen by increasing the bone density; when bones are strong, the risk of osteoporosis is significantly lowered.
- Increased stamina: As the body gets stronger and the muscles more conditioned, they will fatigue less prematurely.
- Management of chronic condition: If you are suffering from back pain, diabetes, arthritis or any chronic conditions that lower your quality of life, strength training will help to reduce the symptoms and better control the disease.
- A sharp mind: Regular strength training will improve and sharpen one’s mind, also aiding concentration.
- Weight control: With regular strength training you develop larger muscles, which increase the body’s metabolic rate. When the body’s metabolic rate is higher, it burns more energy, which helps to better control body weight.
The human body is extremely resilient and even though the ageing process gives rise to a number of physical and mental regressions, it will find always find away to adapt to the stresses placed upon it. Studies show that you can comfortably maintain and develop strength well into your sixties, so you can maintain good health and continue to build a strong body as you age.
Anyone over the age of 50 will significantly benefit from resistance exercises because hormonal changes cause the bones to naturally become more porous, especially in women. Resistance training, therefore, plays an important role in preventing and even reversing this process, reducing the risk of osteoporosis.