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More Research Points To The Benefits Of Strength Training As We Age

June 20, 2011

People lose 30 percent of their muscle strength between the ages of 50 and 70 years. However, maintaining muscle strength in old age is enormously important in order to maintain mobility and to be able to lead an independent life and manage everyday tasks independently. New research conducted by Frank Mayer and colleagues from Germany’s University of Potsdam conclude that progressive strength training, also called resistance training, counteracts muscular atrophy in old age.

The authors investigated the extent of the effects that can be achieved by strength training in older people and which intensities of exercise are useful and possible for those over 60. They found that regular strength training increased muscle strength, reduced muscular atrophy, and that tendons and bones adapt, too. These successes in turn had a preventive effect in terms of avoiding falls and injuries. Greater intensities of training yielded greater effects than moderate and low intensities. In order to increase muscle mass, an intensity of 60 to 85 percent of the one-repetition-maximum is required. In order to increase rapidly available muscle force, higher intensities—over 85 percent—are required. The optimum amount of exercise for healthy elderly persons is 3 to 4 training units per week.

In the coming decades, the importance of maintaining the ability to work and to make a living will increase around the world, as will the need for independence in everyday life and leisure activities. In Germany, where the study was conducted, the retirement age is increasing to 67 years next year. That means that one in three adults of working age will be older than 50 by 2020, and by 2050, the proportion of people older than 60 in Germany's population will rise to an estimated 40 percent. Currently, the percentage of elderly persons who practice strength training there is only about 10 to 15 percent.

If you have no experience with strength training, talk to your doctor about starting a program, either with a beginner’s DVD or a few sessions with a trainer at a local gym.