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 Fitness Programs for Older Adults: As Young As You Feel  

As presented in Table 1, the 21-to-40 year-olds lowered their body weight by 2.6 pounds and their percent fat by 2.3 percent. The 41-to-60-year-olds decreased their body weight by 2.0 pounds and their percent fat by 2.1 percent. The 61-to-80-year-olds reduced their body weight by 1.7 pounds, and their percent fat by 2.0 percent.

Changes in fat weight and lean weight were also similar for the three age groups. The 21-to-40-year-olds lost 4.9 pounds of fat weight and added 2.3 pounds of lean weight.

The 41-to-60-year-olds lost 4.4 pounds of fat weight and added 2.3 pounds of lean weight. The 61-to-80-year-olds lost 4.1 pounds of fat weight and added 2.4 pounds of lean weight, for a 6.5 pound change in their body composition (see Table 1).

These findings indicate that senior men and women improve their body weight and body composition about as much as younger adults in response to a basic program of strength and endurance exercise. It is interesting to note that the seniors developed lean muscle at the same rate as the other participants. Replacing muscle is essential for seniors because sedentary individuals lose over 5 pounds of lean tissue during every decade of adult life. By adding 2.4 pounds of muscle, the seniors in this study reversed almost five years of the aging process after just two months of strength training.

Blood Pressure Changes
All three groups began the basic fitness program with similar diastolic blood pressure readings (76.1 mm Hg to 80.1 mm Hg). However, the average systolic blood pressure for the 61-to-80-year-olds was considerably higher (143.1 mm Hg) than for the 41-to-60-year-olds (127.9 mm Hg) and the 21-to-40-year-olds (121.2 mm Hg).

As presented in Table 2, all three age groups lowered their resting blood pressure as a result of the eight-week exercise program. The seniors, however, experienced the greatest improvement, with a 3.7 mm Hg decrease in diastolic blood pressure and a 6.2 mm Hg reduction in systolic blood pressure.

The change in systolic blood pressure was particularly important to the senior participants because they began the study above the hypertensive level (140 mm Hg), but ended within the normal range.

Discussion of Findings
The results of this relatively large research study should be encouraging news for senior men and women. Consider the following key findings for the 341 older adults who completed the eight-weight basic fitness program.

1. Seniors can safely participate in a well-designed and carefully supervised program of strength exercise. Of course, all participants should have their physician's approval before beginning an exercise program.

2. Seniors can improve their body composition. The seniors in this exercise program reduced their percent fat by 2.0 percent after just two months of training.

3. Seniors can decrease their fat weight. The senior subjects lost more than 4 pounds of fat weight during the eight-week training period.

4. Seniors can increase their lean weight. The seniors in this study added 2.4 pounds of lean weight after two months of training.

5. Seniors can reduce their resting blood pressure. Following eight weeks of regular exercise, the senior subjects experienced a 3.7 mm Hg drop in their diastolic blood pressure and a 6.2 mm Hg drop in their systolic blood pressure.

6. Seniors can develop physically active lifestyles, even after years of sedentary behavior. Over 90 percent of the senior program participants continued to exercise after the completion of the study.

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 About The Author
Wayne Westcott PhDWayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the......more
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