Resistance Training for All Ages!
Anecdotally while taking care of patients with musculoskeletal problems, it seemed clear to me that strength training or activities that improved your strength, such as one’s occupation or hobbies, were important to overall health. From the 82 year-old cyclist who continued to go to the gym daily to the 85 year-old who tended a garden that fed many beyond herself, clearly adding resistance training is important to these “successful agers”. We know that the ability to develop strength, power, and muscular endurance is an essential part of the performance of athletes. However, over the last two decades, there is more emphasis on the importance of resistance training for health promotion and both treatment and prevention of chronic disease in the general public. In addition, there is evidence for benefit in improving functional capacity, independence, fall prevention, psychological well-being and overall quality of life.
The standard teaching is that there is a reduction in muscle strength/size as we age, starting in the third decade. This change in muscle mass, or sarcopenia, contributes to multiple changes which have an impact on our public health system. Clearly, sarcopenia contributes to difficulties with activities of daily living and exercise tolerance. There is also a very important relationship to our muscle mass and the development of osteopenia or osteoporosis. Sarcopenia reduces the daily level of physical activity and energy expenditure, reducing our metabolic rate, which contributes to weight gain and obesity. Undoubtedly, the loss of muscle mass has significant impact on our well-being and the aging process.
However, the loss of muscle mass/strength clearly can be attenuated and probably more than we thought even two decades ago. Multiple studies have illustrated strength and functional gains in older subjects, including into their 80’s. Interestingly, these improvements have included muscle strength, functional motion, and even muscle hypertrophy. In addition, strength training helps preserve bone mass, decreases impact on joints, and has a very positive metabolic benefit.
Yes, the aging process is inevitable, but there is strong evidence that we can both markedly attenuate the process of sarcopenia and continue to draw benefit from strength training at any age. Therefore, we should encourage a component of strength training into the fitness plan of our patients as well as ourselves. So whether you are in the gym hitting the weights or bands or working in your garden, keep it up.