Forestall Sarcopenia and Frailty with Resistance Training

Older people can build physical strength

Resistance training produces benefits beyond from building muscle

Sarcopenia and frailty are age-related conditions that reduce quality of life of older people and increase public health costs. The newly revised European definition of sarcopenia: a progressive and generalized skeletal muscle disorder that is associated with increased likelihood of adverse outcomes including falls, fractures, physical disability, and mortality. The Japanese Geriatric Society defined frailty as “a state of reduced ability to recover from stress resulting from an age-related decline in reserves”.

Physical weakness and accompanying function decline in older people lead to age-related chronic illnesses, reduced mobility, and lower autonomy. When we think of resistance training, we typically imagine younger persons and athletes. But can middle-aged and older folks benefit from resistance training? Researchers at the University of Michigan reviewed 49 studies that included 1,328 adults over age 50 to find out. Participants gained 2.4 pounds of lean body mass (mostly muscle) during an average training period of 20.5 weeks. Higher intensity training led to even greater gains in lean body mass. If you’re getting on in years and don’t engage in any kind of resistance training, remember that working your muscles can help you avoid or at least minimize physical problems later in life. You can increase your muscle mass and strength and maintain your mobility.

If you visit your doctor for advice about being more physical active, she’ll probably suggest some aerobic form such as walking. A recent review calls this recommendation incomplete because it doesn’t include resistance training. An emerging body of evidence shows that resistance training provides equal or greater health benefits compared to aerobic exercise. Resistance training is an under-appreciated part of the healthy lifestyle choice, Keep Moving, and is essential to forestall frailty in older people. But that’s not all.

Resistance training can improve 1) blood fat profiles and vascular function, 2) immune system function, 3) muscle mass and strength, 4)  mitochondrial oxidative capacity, 5) physical function and mobility, 6) blood glucose and insulin sensitivity, 7) blood pressure, and 8) body composition. You can head to the gym and use weights, ideally two or three times per week. Ask a trainer at the gym for advice so you don’t inadvertently hurt yourself. Or you can try a home program using your own body weight and maybe hand weights. You can find lots of examples online. In any event, you’ll do yourself a world of good when you embrace some type of resistance training.

The effects of resistance training on muscular strength, physical performance, and body composition at early (prevention) and late (treatment) stages in both sarcopenia and frailty remain unclear. European researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to evaluate the effects of randomized controlled trials of resistance training programs lasting 8 weeks or more on strength, physical function, and body composition of adults 65 years and older diagnosed with pre-sarcopenia, sarcopenia, pre-frailty, or frailty.

The meta-analyses showed significant increases in hand grip, lower-limb strength, agility, gait speed, postural stability, functional performance, muscle mass and lower fat mass. Quite a list! Resistance training during early stages significantly improved all measures, especially gait speed and functional strength. Resistance training is a highly effective preventive strategy to delay or reduce the negative effects of early and late stages of sarcopenia and frailty.

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