Discover how older adults can unlock ‘long-lasting’ health benefits through weightlifting 

Jun 25, 2024
"This study provides evidence that resistance training with heavy loads at retirement age can have long-term effects over several years." Source: Getty Images.

A recent study has discovered that older individuals can significantly enhance their leg strength and enjoy “long-lasting” health benefits by lifting weights three times a week.

While previous studies have found that resistance training may help older adults stay fit, researchers from the University of Denmark recently discovered that one year of heavy resistance training in older age preserves vital leg strength for years.

People naturally lose muscle strength as they age and experts agree that declining leg strength is a strong indicator for mortality in older individuals.

As part of the study, researchers followed 451 participants who were divided into three groups, with one group doing heavy resistance training, another group doing moderate intensity training and the control group engaging in their usual exercises.

Researchers measured fat levels and bone and muscle strength at the start of the study and recaptured measurements after one, two, and four year intervals.

The results showed that those in the heavy weights group kept up their leg strength, while those in the moderate and no exercise groups lost strength over time.

“We showed that in a group of well-functioning older adults around retirement age, one year of (heavy resistance training) may induce long-lasting beneficial effects by preserving muscle function,” they reported in BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine.

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

Loss of muscle strength is a major contributor to falls and injuries, including hip fractures head injuries, and even death.

Fortunately, there are a number of exercises to help reduce the risk of falls and enhance well-being, most of which are fairly simple and accessible. One such exercise recommended by Exercise Physiologist Luke Rabone from Restart Exercise Physiology is standing on one foot with hands on hips.

“If you can achieve single-leg stance for greater than 45 seconds, try standing on one leg and turning your head left to right,” he explained.

“If you can achieve this, try closing your eyes (please ensure you have someone at hand for support, or perform this by your kitchen bench or in the corner of a room where support is available if required).

“Standing on unstable surfaces, such as a foam pad, can challenge the somatosensory balance system and plantar surface of the foot.”

Rabone also suggests lateral or sideways movements as evidence-based exercises for improving balance. Something as simple as side-stepping over a line on kitchen tiles can be an effective starting point, gradually increasing the distance over time or introducing small hurdles for added difficulty.

“The importance of doing any such balance exercises are to have support at hand, whether in the shape of a stable and solid object or a loved one to keep a close eye on you,” Rabone added.

For those looking to incorporate strength-building exercises, Rabone recommends a timed sit-to-stand exercise using a chair with a straight back, no armrests, and a seat height of approximately 43cm off the ground.

“Have someone stand next to you and time how many sit-to-stands you can perform in 30 seconds,” he explains.

“To ensure proper technique, cross your arms, keep your feet flat, sit back to the back rest (shoulders vertical of hips in seated position), and achieve a full standing position.”

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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