Studies led by Professor Mikel Izquierdo-Redin and the Biomechanics and Physiology of Movement research group at the Public University of Navarre in Spain found that 12 weeks of training geared toward improving muscular power in older people is highly effective for improving functional capacity and quality of life.
The results of the research, conducted in collaboration with the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro in Portugal and the Federal University of Rio Grande del Sur in Brazil, have been published in two articles in the scientific journal Experimental Gerontology: “Effects of high-speed power training on functional capacity and muscle performance in older women” and “Strength prior to endurance intra-session exercise sequence optimizes neuromuscular and cardiovascular gains in elderly men.”
The results confirm the hypotheses raised in recent decades by various researchers with respect to the capacity of power training to prevent or reduce functional loss in older people. As Professor Izquerdo explains, “It has been established how people between 60 and 70 years of age who participated in a four-month training program to develop muscular strength and mass regained the functional capacity and muscle power of twenty years previously.”
In his view, there are two good reasons why we should undertake regular physical exercise from the age of 50 onwards: “First because it is a cornerstone in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular and other chronic diseases and, secondly, because it plays a crucial role in preventing and treating the decline in functional capacity, which tends to emerge in a highly significant way at this age."
The interest in aging well has grown exponentially over the last few decades and some of its aspects, like disability or fragility, have become the focus of research due to exploding numbers: In Spain during the last century the population doubled, with the number of people over 65 increasing sevenfold and the number of octogenarians increasing thirteenfold.
The loss in muscular mass and muscular qualities in aging is directly related to the reduction in mobility and the capacity to perform the activities regarded as basic or instrumental for daily life, and worse: “This loss of muscular mass and qualities has manifested itself in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, limits participation in activities in daily life and also contributes toward mortality risk,” says Professor Izquerdo.
Interventions proven to be the most effective in delaying disability and other situations that arise with aging, like falls, cognitive deterioration and depression, are multi-component physical exercise programs and, above all, power training to build muscle.
Relatively intense physical training is needed and must be adapted to each individual, so working with your doctor to find the best strategy for you makes the most sense. The benefits include muscular strength, aerobic physical condition, joint mobility, motor skill, self-esteem and longevity—irrespective of age or sex as long as the intensity and duration of the training are sufficient.
Research has also showed that, in older people, a training program that combines muscular strength and endurance exercises (such as aerobics, or “cardio”) is one of the best strategies for improving neuromuscular and cardiovascular function while improving functional capacity and promoting the enhancement of health and qualify of life. Interestingly, the research also showed that developing muscular strength first, before doing cardiovascular exercise, is the best sequencing for obtaining the maximum benefits from a physical exercise program.