Strength Training into Old Age
Updated: Jun 26, 2020
I'm biased towards strength training. It is so important to our musculoskeletal health and for injury prevention. For function in life, it makes everyday tasks easier and the difficult tasks not so much. In physical therapy education, we are constantly promoting resistance training for all ages and various conditions. Older adults tend to quit these activities that promote strength. This is often due to past injuries, pain, fear, or the difficulty of performing them. We know in these cases it is EVEN MORE Important to keep performing strength training.
A recent research report in the Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy (2019) showed just how important it is. The purpose of this paper was to find out how long-term strength training affected functional tasks and strength in older adults. This study compared masters athletes, active older adults, sedentary older adults, and moderately active young adults.
Those that performed strength training (masters group) had significantly more strength and improved function in daily tasks. The group that strength trained had a leg press strength of 45% better than the ACTIVE older adults and 75% better than sedentary adults. Even against the young group, the strength trained had 26% greater leg strength.
Strength training into older adulthood produced improved strength and function - even compared to young adults.
Other tests included a chair rise test (standing and sitting repeatedly), stair climbing, and walking speed. The strength trained older adults had improved chair rising and stair climbing performance. Walking speed was not significantly better with strength training but the sedentary individuals showed slower speed compared to all other active groups.
Functional performance in daily life is related to muscle strength
Resistance training such as weight lifting can help maintain physical strength throughout the lifespan
Recreational activity such as walking, hiking, golf, etc. are NOT sufficient to gain the same results.
Even 1 hour per week of strength training can produce valuable improvement in function
People of all ages can find a manner to strengthen their body but may need help to get started.
You Can't Stop Moving!
The average age for participants was about 72 years for the older adult groups and 22 for the young adult group. The masters athletes were older adults who have been strength trained in weight lifting clubs. Active adults were defined as being recreationally active at least 1 hour twice weekly and sedentary was defined as less than the 2 times weekly. The masters group was the only group to perform strength training regularly.
Reference: Unhjem, R., van den Hoven, L. T., Nygård, M., Hoff, J., & Wang, E. (2019). Functional Performance With Age. Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy, 42(3), 115–122. https://doi.org/10.1519/jpt.0000000000000141