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Weightlifting in Old Age Linked to Long-Term Health Benefits

Weightlifting in Old Age Linked to Long-Term Health Benefits

A new study found that older adults who did one year of serious weightlifting maintained their strength gains for four years

Lifting weights, especially in retirement, can pay off.

Just one year of heavy resistance training at retirement age can result in maintained strength four years later, according to new research examining the long-term effects of resistance training in older adults.

Until this study, from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, the long-term effects of resistance training in older populations were largely unknown, the study’s authors said.

Researchers randomly assigned 451 retirement-age participants to one of three year-long programs: a supervised, machine-based, full-body heavy resistance training (HRT) program, a moderate-intensity program consisting of body weight-based circuit training and resistance bands three times a week, or a non-exercising control group. Those in the control group were encouraged to maintain regular physical activity levels.

The primary outcome measure was leg extensor power, followed by isometric leg strength and body composition.

Researchers found that those in the HRT program (mean age 71 years old) maintained baseline performance in isometric leg strength at their four-year assessment, while those in the moderate-intensity cohort returned to their baseline strength level after the completion of the study.

“Interestingly, leg muscle strength was maintained from baseline in HRT, indicating that among individuals who already seemed to have a high physical activity level but were previously resistance training naive, implementing resistance training with heavy loads for 1 year may at group-level induce long-term health effects,” the researchers wrote. “Considering that muscle strength has been shown to predict mortality in apparently healthy populations, these results may be of particular relevance.”

Strength Training for Longevity

Using strength training as a means to ward off sarcopenia — a decline in muscle mass, strength and function that is commonly associated with older populations — can help aging individuals preserve independence, balance and mobility, and improve resistance to injuries. 

In a podcast interview last week with former ESPN anchor Sage Steele, fitness guru Jillian Michaels discussed the benefits of ramping up fitness routines as the chronological clock ticks. 

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“Not only would I not change your workout – if I were to make modifications, I would push the ‘up’ button,” Michaels said, adding that there isn’t a “different prescription” for fitness when you hit 50. 

The study’s findings can be a game-changer for fitness companies that are increasingly targeting older populations with strength-based training.

Smart home gym maker Tonal has created strength training workouts catering to the “active aging” population, with its AI-powered algorithm making it simple — and safe — for older users to lift the ideal amount. There is also a “spotter mode” in place that disengages weight if a user is struggling, helping to avoid strain or possible injuries. 

On the digital side, Mighty Health, an all-in-one exercise, nutrition, and daily health program, serves those 50 and up. Last year, the platform raised $7.6 million and offers personalized coaching and lessons. 

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