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Does resistance - strength - training benefit older adults?

By Judy Foreman
August 17, 2009

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Q. Does resistance - strength - training benefit older adults?

A. It certainly does. In fact, the benefits of strength training - weight lifting, exercise machines, pulling on wide elastic bands color coded for resistance - are among the strongest findings in medical research.

A new meta-analysis, which involved pooling data on 6,700 people over age 60 from 121 randomized, controlled studies, shows that resistance training makes muscles substantially stronger and helps people do better at everyday activities such as walking, climbing steps, and standing up from chairs. The analysis was published online July 8 by the Cochrane Collaboration, an international not-for-profit organization that provides up-to-date information about the effects of health care.

The take-home message, says Chiung-Ju Liu, an occupational therapist and gerontologist at Indiana University in Indianapolis who led the review, is that people, even into their 80s and even if they have some health problems, should do resistance exercises two to three times a week. Each exercise session should be hard enough so that you can only do three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions of the weight being lifted.

“Once you feel the resistance is not enough of a challenge, then you can increase to the next level,’’ heavier weights or a more difficult elastic band, says Liu. If you have a special medical condition such as heart disease or arthritis, check with your health care provider and monitor any pain associated with the exercise.

The evidence in favor of strength training - at any age - “is nothing short of astonishing,’’ says William J. Evans, an exercise physiologist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. And it is “remarkably safe. There are no reports that I have seen to indicate that there are any safety issues. . . . Resistance exercise is actually safer than regular aerobic exercise as far as risks of a cardiac event.’’

E-mail health questions to foreman@globe.com.

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