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Weight-lifting helps older adults preserve their strength and health

Forget lawn bowls or a gentle swim – pensioners should consider weight-lifting for a healthier retirement, suggests recent research led by the University of Copenhagen

Resistance training, shown to sustain strength well into retirement, is particularly beneficial for the elderly

Gradual loss of muscle function 

Muscle function declines naturally with age, and weakened grip and leg strength are strong predictors of mortality among older adults. 

Resistance training, involving weights, body weight, or resistance bands, has been shown to counteract this decline effectively.

Exploring the benefits of weight-lifting 

The scientists investigated the long-term benefits of a one-year supervised resistance training program using heavy weight-lifting. 

The participants, including 451 retirees with an average age of 71 years old, were divided into three groups: heavy resistance training, moderate-intensity training, or no additional exercise beyond usual activities.

Those in the heavy weights group trained three times weekly, performing three sets of six to 12 repetitions at 70-85% of their maximum weight. 

Moderate-intensity participants engaged in circuits with body weight exercises and resistance bands. Bone and muscle strength, alongside body fat levels, were measured at the study’s start and after one, two, and four years.

Weight-lifting maintains leg strength 

After four years, the heavy weights group maintained their leg strength, while the other groups lost strength. “In well-functioning older adults at retirement age, one year of heavy resistance training may induce long-lasting beneficial effects by preserving muscle function,” the authors wrote.

No differences were noted among the groups in leg extensor power, handgrip strength, or lean leg mass, all of which decreased. However, visceral fat increased in those who didn’t exercise, remaining stable in the exercise groups. 

Moreover, the study participants were generally more active, averaging nearly 10,000 steps a day, compared to the wider population.

Long-term effects of resistance training

“This study provides evidence that resistance training with heavy loads at retirement age can have long-term effects over several years,” noted the researchers.

“The results, therefore, provide means for practitioners and policy-makers to encourage older individuals to engage in heavy resistance training.”

The study is published in the journal BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine.


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