by Cristina Marrone
Significant improvements in muscle mass and strength are possible even for healthy people over 85 who have never lifted weights before. This is how you fight fragility
Never too old to get going. Nor for lifting weights and developing muscle mass, strength and mobility. A new study evaluating strength training confirms that even people in their 80s and 90s who had never trained show significant improvements after a three-times-a-week weight lifting program. In the gym, machines such as leg press, chest press, pulldown, rowing machine were used as well as small weights to exercise the upper limbs. The data suggests that healthy older people can still benefit from strength training and that their muscles are still plastic enough to increase both muscle mass and strength. Consequently, even a person of advanced age could perform tasks that perhaps were perceived as impossible.
It is often assumed that people over the age of 80 are unable, or at least less likely, to gain muscle mass, comments Luc van Loon, professor of human biology at Maastricht University, and senior author of the new study. The elderly have been studied little – he says – and generally training research enlists volunteers up to the age of 75 because there is a basic concern that older people are not able to manage training or that their muscles do not respond to the stimulus of lifting weights. Muscle tissue is constantly renewing as long as we live: why shouldn’t the muscles of an octogenarian strengthen and grow like those of a “young” 65 year old? the researchers asked.
The study: older adults build more muscle mass
The team of scientists recruited 29 healthy, elderly men and women. In one group, younger elderly people were selected with 17 people aged between 65 and 75 years. The others were very old people, over 85. None of the participants had debilitating illnesses and none had ever weight trained before.
The researchers measured everyone’s strength and muscle mass before starting the study and then started training with a basic routine also using gym machines for legs and arms. The volunteers performed weight-lifting exercises three times a week for 12 weeks, in supervised sessions, using loads set at up to 80% of their total strength. Both groups responded very well to the exercises, including in terms of enthusiasm, somewhat surprising the researchers. Before the study began, the researchers would have expected that both older men and women would gain muscle mass and strength, but to a lesser extent than those aged 65 to 75. Instead, after three months, those over 85 had built more strength and muscle mass, in relative terms, than the younger group, adding on average 11% to muscle mass and 46% to strength compared to 10% of muscle and 38% strength achieved by younger volunteers. The older group also did better in the scores of a typical exercise to measure sarcopenia, standing up and sitting down in a chair, with an improvement of 13% compared to 8% of the younger ones.
Benefits also for psychophysical well-being
In truth, I have known for years that to combat sarcopenia, strength training is effective at every age of life, even after the age of 90, says Gianfranco Beltrami, sports doctor and national vice-president of the Italian Sports Medical Federation. A complete workout that includes in addition to strength exercises as well as aerobic and stretching exercises – it suggests that they are also essential for maintaining good health and improving cardio-respiratory fitness. If you manage to encourage motivation, thus preventing them from abandoning exercise, by maintaining at least three workouts a week for a few months, the results will be truly surprising. In addition to the activation of muscle fibers, with a considerable gain in strength and a lower risk of falls, there will be an increase in the secretion of some hormones including testosterone, growth hormone (GH) and IGF1 and endorphins capable of offering a notable improvement in well-being. psychophysical. Over time, strength exercises must gradually increase to a high intensity and both weights and free body exercises can be used for the main muscle groups.
The limits of work
According to the researchers, the older adults achieved better results because they had ten years of more decline in muscle mass and strength behind them than their younger colleagues: they therefore started from a lower base.
The improvement in mobility of the older group was particularly encouraging because the loss of physical function is ultimately what defines frailty. Certainly healthy volunteers for their age, with few or no physical limitations, participated in this study and it may be unrealistic for some elderly people with serious illnesses or disabilities to start lifting weights
However, the study has limitations: it lasted only three months and the training was always supervised, with loads monitored and adapted according to needs, a situation that is difficult to replicate in the real world. Furthermore, although never too late, it is always better to start weight training immediately and continue throughout your life. The dangers are around the corner for elderly people who have been sedentary for many years and for whom the risk of injury is very high – warns Beltrami -. It is therefore necessary to be cautious and gradual in increasing loads and pay attention to the pathologies present in those approaching exercise.
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December 10, 2023 (changed December 10, 2023 | 08:15)
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