The natural homeostatic state of our bodies as we age is one of decline. Specifically, we undergo two processes: sarcopenia (age related loss of muscle mass) and dynapenia (age related loss of strength and power production). The statistics surrounding these conditions are staggering including the average individual will lose about 4-10% of muscle mass per decade past the age of 40 while 16% to 18% of women and 8% to 10% of men older than 65 cannot lift 10 lbs or stoop/kneel down.
Furthermore, these conditions leave us vulnerable to many health complications like decreased balance and proprioception, increased fall risk, increased bone fractures, obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and cancers. These conditions erode our quality of life and subject us to a sedentary life of pain, limited joint functionality, limited mobility, and ultimately increase our risk for all cause mortality (any way we can die). We all to often accept this fate and assume this is “just what happens when we get old.” However, if we employ proper resistance exercise, this does not need to be our fate. Examining the research on this topic shows us essentially the opposite and that these conditions are both preventable and reversible. If we properly intervene, we can maintain our muscle mass and physical functionality throughout the duration of our lives.
A 2013 study published by the Amercian Association of Aging studied a 6 week resistance exercise intervention on various tests representing functional movement in older adult women (30 second sit to stand and 8 foot up and go). The study found that when compared to a control group (no exercise intervention), the resistance exercise group had a statistically significant improvement in each one of the tests–indicating an improvement in daily functional tasks and general mobility. Additionally, researchers looked at muscle thickness and muscle quality (relative strength to size of muscle) and found that the resistance exercise group showed statistically significant improvements in both muscle thickness and quality whereas the control group showed no improvements whatsoever. A 2009 review examined 120 studies from 1966-2008 (all of which used resistance exercise as an independent variable) and concluded that progressive resistance exercise two to three times per week can improve physical function in older adults, including reducing physical disability, some functional limitations (i.e. balance, gait speed, timed walk, timed ‘up-and-go’, chair rise, and climbing stairs) and muscle weakness in older people. Multiple other studies have shown that resistance exercise in older adults can significantly increase strength, muscle mass and bone mineral density, improve gene expression and mitochondrial characteristics, reduce the risk of falls, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, and, as noted, reduce the risk of all-cause mortality.
The evidence is clear that we don’t need to voluntarily subject ourselves to the negative health implications associated with aging related disease and illness. Rather, brief (30 minutes) and infrequent (2x/week) resistance exercise can prevent and reverse many of these implications that we often times assume we are doomed to endure.
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