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K
eeping Fit
 


Strength Training For Seniors: The Facts

© Wayne L. Westcott PhD

The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Keeping Fit by Wayne L. Westcott PhD. View all columns in series

These findings indicate that senior men and women improve their bodyweight and body composition about the same 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) tissue at the same rate as the other program participants. Replacing muscle is essential for seniors, because sedentary individuals lose over five pounds of lean tissue every decade of adult life 16. 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 age 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).


Table 2. Changes in resting blood pressure for young, middle-aged and older program participants(N=785).

Age Systolic BP Pre (mm Hg) Systolic BP Post (mm Hg) Systolic BP Change
(mm Hg)
Diastolic BP Pre (mm Hg) Diastolic BP Post (mm Hg) Diastolic BP Change (mm Hg)
21-40 years
(N=144)
121.2 116.7 -4.5 76.1 72.9 -3.2
41-60 years (N=375) 127.9 125.4 -2.5 79.0 76.6 -2.4
61-80 years (N=266) 143.1 136.9 -6.2 80.1 76.4 -3.7


As presented in Table 2, all three age groups lowered their resting blood pressures as a result of the eight week exercise program. However, the seniors 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 week basic fitness program.

1. Seniors can safely participate in a well-designed and carefully-supervised program of strength exercise. There were no injuries among the senior subjects in this study. 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% after just two months of training. This was similar to the body composition improvements attained by the younger adults.

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About The Author
Wayne 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 American Senior Fitness Association, and the National Youth......more
 
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