In conversations with hundreds of people on the topic of aging, it seems that the consensus among those not in the fitness industry is that people inherently become weak as they age. Some recent research calls into question whether this is true.
It is true that people will tend to lose approximately 5-10% of their muscle mass every decade after the age of 40, and that rate significantly increases after 65 years old.
Countless studies have proven that much of this muscle and strength loss can be prevented with resistance training and proper nutrition. This is true of all types of older adults, whether they are master athletes or previously sedentary.
So How Much Strength Can Older Adults Regain?
The issue has been solved about preventing muscle loss. But until recently, no one has looked at how much can be regained relative to younger adults. Essentially, can older adults who undergo supervised training regain strength and muscle mass that compares to younger men? Let’s look at some recent research on the topic:
Candow, et al JSCR, 25 (2) 2011
The researchers trained a group of older men 60-71yrs old with a supervised heavy resistance training program 3 times a week for 22 weeks. At the end of the study they measured muscle size and strength. Not surprisingly, they all gained muscle and strength. What was surprising was how much.
They compared the average strength levels and muscle size achieved by the older adults to the average strength and muscle size of a group of younger men 18-31 years old who were all physically active but not involved in resistance training. The results showed that there was not a significant difference in the muscle size or strength in the older men after supervised training compared to the younger men!
This means that older men can expect to attain the same amount of strength and muscle with a supervised training program as younger, physically active men!
Is it really that important to be stronger?
Research has shown a very strong correlation between strength and death from all causes: essentially, stronger older men have a lower risk of dying from all causes (Ruiz, et al. BMJ July 2008;337:a439).
Strength is a the most important factor in fall prevention, and is also related to the performance of activities of daily living, balance, and walking ( American Geriatrics Society; British Geriatrics Society and American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons Panel on Falls Prevention. Journal of the American geriatrics society, Vol. 49, 2001, pp. 664-72. Speechley, M. Canadian journal on aging, 2005.)
So the evidence is clear: being strong is important, more so for older adults.
Why Strength Training Is MORE important for Older Adults
In addition to the above evidence, increasing strength is significantly more important for older adults (anyone older than 60) and yes, that includes you Mom, Dad, Mary if you are reading. Simply put, strength is like money. The less you have, the more important it is. If a fit 35 year old loses 50% of their strength, while they will struggle with high level strength, they can still perform all of their daily functions with little issue. If a 75 year old loses 20% of their strength, that might be the difference between living independently and needing assisted living.
Can you do it?
Getting stronger is certainly something you can do. No matter your injuries, pain, age, weight, diseases, or time constraints – you can respond very well to strength training. The research is clear on this, and I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Here are some examples from Spectrum clients that you should check out:
Ralph in his early 80s:
Jolyne in her early 70s:
Peter in his 80s:
Go here to learn what to do and how to get started.