Earlier this month, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) released its updated version of Growing Stronger - Strength Training for Older Adults. The document, which was written by Dr Miriam Nelson of Tufts University, delineates the health benefits of strength training, including relieving the signs and symptoms of numerous chronic conditions, among them: arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, back pain and depression.
Research has shown that strengthening exercises are both safe and effective for women and men of all ages, including those who are not in perfect health. In fact, people with health concerns, including heart disease or arthritis, often benefit the most from an exercise program that includes lifting weights a few times each week. Strength training, particularly in conjunction with regular aerobic exercise, can also have a profound impact on a person's mental and emotional health. Benefits include:
· Arthritis relief - Tufts University recently completed a strength-training program with older men and women with moderate to severe knee osteoarthritis. The results of this sixteen-week program showed that strength training decreased pain by 43 per cent, increased muscle strength and general physical performance, improved the clinical signs and symptoms of the disease, and decreased disability.
· Restoration of balance and reduction of falls - Strengthening exercises, when done properly and through the full range of motion, increase a person's flexibility and balance, which decrease the likelihood and severity of falls. One study in New Zealand in older women 80 years of age and older showed a 40 per cent reduction in falls with simple strength and balance training. This is a great result and shows how strength training can improve balance and reduce falls which can lead to osteoporotic bone fractures.
· Strengthening of bone - Post-menopausal women can lose 1 to 2 per cent of their bone mass annually. Results from a study conducted at Tufts University, which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1994, showed that strength training increases bone density and reduces the risk for fractures among women aged 50 to 70 years.
· Proper weight maintenance - Muscle is active tissue that consumes calories while stored fat uses very little energy. Strength training can provide up to a 15 per cent increase in metabolic rate, which is enormously helpful for weight loss and long term weight control for older people.
· Improved glucose control - Studies show that lifestyle changes such as strength training have a profound impact on helping older adults manage their diabetes. In a recent study of Hispanic men and women, 16 weeks of strength training produced dramatic improvements in glucose control that are comparable to taking diabetes medication. Additionally, the study volunteers were stronger, gained muscle, lost body fat, had less depression, and felt much more self-confident.
· Healthy state of mind - Strength training provides similar improvements in depression as anti-depressant medications (see our article on Strength training reduces depression in elderly). Currently, it is not known if this is because people feel better when they are stronger or if strength training produces a helpful biochemical change in the brain. It is most likely a combination of the two. When older adults participate in strength training programs, their self-confidence and self-esteem improve, which has a strong impact on their overall quality of life.
· Sleep improvement - People who exercise regularly enjoy improved sleep quality. They fall asleep more quickly, sleep more deeply, awaken less often, and sleep longer.
· Healthy heart tissue - Strength training is important for older adults and cardiac health because heart disease risk is lower when the body is leaner. One study found that cardiac patients gained not only strength and flexibility but also aerobic capacity when they did strength training three times a week as part of their rehabilitation program. This and other studies have prompted the American Heart Association to recommend strength training as a way to reduce risk of heart disease and as a therapy for patients in cardiac rehabilitation programs.
· Research and background about strength training - Scientific research has shown that exercise can slow the physiological aging clock. While aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging, or swimming, has many excellent health benefits-it maintains the heart and lungs and increases cardiovascular fitness and endurance-it does not make your muscles strong. Strength training does. Studies have shown that lifting weights two or three times a week increases strength by building muscle mass and bone density.
One 12-month study conducted on postmenopausal women at Tufts University demonstrated 1 per cent gains in hip and spine bone density, 75 per cent increases in strength and 13 per cent increases in dynamic balance with just two days per week of progressive strength training. The control group had losses in bone, strength, and balance. Strength training programs can also have a profound effect on reducing risk for falls, which translates to fewer fractures.
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