Older Adults Should Undertake Resistance Training

The evidence from numerous studies of recent years makes it clear that resistance training produces significant benefits to the health and remaining life expectancy of older adults. To put it another way, most people do too little to maintain strength and their health suffers for it. The effects here seem to partially overlap with and partially be distinct from the benefits of aerobic exercise. But the benefits are broad, as indicated in this open access position paper on the subject.

Age-related loss of muscle mass (originally termed sarcopenia) has an estimated prevalence of 10% in adults older than 60 years (538), rising to greater than 50% in adults older than 80 years. Prevalence rates are lower in community-dwelling older adults than those residing in assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. Loss of muscle mass is generally gradual, beginning after age 30 and accelerating after age 60. Previous longitudinal studies have suggested that muscle mass decreases by 1.0-1.4% per year in the lower limbs, which is more than the rate of loss reported in upper-limb muscles. Sarcopenia is considered part of the causal pathway for strength loss, disability, and morbidity in older adult populations. Yet, muscle weakness is highly associated with both mortality and physical disability, even when adjusting for sarcopenia, indicating that muscle mass loss may be secondary to the effects of strength loss.

The rate of decline in muscle strength with age is two to five times greater than declines in muscle size. As such, thresholds of clinically relevant muscle weakness have been established as a biomarker of age-related disability and early mortality. These thresholds have been shown to be strongly related to incident mobility limitations and mortality. Given these links, grip strength (a robust proxy indicator of overall strength) has been labeled a "biomarker of aging". Losses in strength may translate to functional challenges because decreases in specific force and power are observed. Declines in muscle power have been shown to be more important than muscle strength in the ability to perform daily activities. Moreover, a large body of evidence links muscular weakness to a host of negative age-related health outcomes including type 2 diabetes, disability, cognitive decline, osteoporosis, and early all-cause mortality.

Resistance training is considered an important component of a complete exercise program to complement the widely known positive effects of aerobic training on health and physical capacities. There is strong evidence that resistance training can mitigate the effects of aging on neuromuscular function and functional capacity. Various forms of resistance training have potential to improve muscle strength, mass, and power output. Evidence reveals a dose-response relationship where volume and intensity are strongly associated with adaptations to resistance exercise.

Despite the known benefits of resistance training, only 8.7% of older adults (older than 75 years of age) in the United States participate in muscle-strengthening activities as part of their leisure time. When performed regularly (2-3 days per week), and achieving an adequate intensity and volume (2-3 sets per exercise) through periodization, resistance exercise results in favorable neuromuscular adaptations in both healthy older adults and those with chronic conditions. These adaptations translate to functional improvements of daily living activities, especially when power training exercise is included. In addition, resistance training may improve balance, preserve bone density, independence, and vitality, reduce risk of numerous chronic diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis, while also improving psychological and cognitive benefits.

Link: https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000003230


Been taking this approach since I was 48. I use principles of Static Contraction Training due to its extreme efficacy and efficiency. It produces trackable/measurable results at least in my case unlike any other method. 5 minutes every other week is sufficient after initial 3 month startup phase.

Posted by: Dave Gobel at July 30th, 2019 7:25 AM

The benefits of resistance exercise are well studied and known for a long time.

The problem is most people will never even think about starting with strength training unless the health care system ( no matter which country ) provides incentives or penalties.

Posted by: Stephan at July 30th, 2019 8:59 AM

I do weights every 4 days (3 days of elliptical in between). People over 60 are not going to recover from serious weight lifting fast enough to do it 3 times a week.

Like many stories on resistance training, there is a dearth of WHY it is beneficial. I believe in 2 theories: 1) Mitochondrial enhancement, although the specific mechanism has been hinted at in earlier articles here, I think the science is still unclear (more little, more efficient, more communication...) 2) Bending and compression of bones forcing fluids with stem cells out of the marrow of large bones. This really needs to be studied.

Posted by: Tom Schaefer at July 30th, 2019 10:31 AM

@Person1234: Senescence is not really cell aging. The body uses it for embryonic development, wound healing, cancer defense and maybe other functions. If a cell is sufficiently damaged/dysfunctional or reproduces a lot, it becomes senescent, but that doesn't convert senescence into "cell aging".

Posted by: Antonio at July 30th, 2019 11:46 AM

Us older people must also find ways to consume enough protein - and reduce myostatin! creatine, leucine and HMB probably do the trick. Lifting weights also causes a reduction in myostatin. Is this enough?
Liz Parrish is still getting good muscle results from her myostatin inhibitor experiment 4 years ago. For those of us who can't get our genes edited, what else can be done?

Posted by: August at July 30th, 2019 4:09 PM

@Tom, you are right, those over 60 need 3 days to recover from resistance training, unless you are on HRT.

Posted by: JohnD at July 30th, 2019 5:31 PM


This is simply not true. Even if you start strength training at an older age, it's a matter of not doing too much too early. And an experienced adult personal trainer might be helpful too.

Posted by: Stephan at July 31st, 2019 12:26 AM

Stephan: I'm 58. I've been doing resistance training for 2.5 years. I've gotten to the point that my tendons and ligaments are the limiting factors on how much I can lift without injury. I lift full stacks in abs, back (40,30,20,10 reps = 100), and triceps extension (12, 12, 12 reps). I'm closing in on full stacks of other machines, but I tore a tendon on the butterfly chest and have set a safe limit after 6 months of recovery. The sets and reps are close to exhaustion on most. I'm sore the next day and even more sore the next, finally improving on the 3rd day, before getting back to it on the 4th day.

I've seen the way the vast majority of ladies of all ages and most men lift, before disappearing from the gym with a half life of 6 weeks. Sure, they should lift every 3 days.

Posted by: Tom Schaefer at July 31st, 2019 9:14 AM

I'm 64 and work out 5 times a week in the gym and hike 30 - 50 km a week. At the age of 63 I became a certified personal trainer. Believe me, I know what I am talking about.

Posted by: Stephan at August 1st, 2019 12:12 AM

@stephan, The interweb is full of N=1 experiments that claim anyone can do X because they did X. Your experience is only proof that some people can do X, not that everyone can do X.

Posted by: JohnD at August 1st, 2019 10:57 AM

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