In my capacity as a physical therapist, I routinely hear people tell me that it's too late in life for them to get stronger via resistance training. Fortunately for all of us, that's NOT true, and we can get stronger! We should all strive to practice healthy aging; the idea of reaching optimal health throughout our entire lifespan. Resistance training is a vital piece of achieving this goal.
Resistance training has been well proven to increase an individual's strength. These strength gains are the result of some amazing physiologic changes within our bodies. While I won't go into great detail about these changes, I would like to note some of what I consider to be impressive adaptations within the human body. For instance, did you know that muscle gains within humans are thought to occur through an increase in size of your current muscle fibers, not through the development of new fibers? While some still debate this, it's generally recognized that human strength gains occur through hypertrophy (increased muscle tissue size) versus hyperplasia (increased number of muscle fibers). Interestingly enough, in animals, hyperplasia is thought to occur. Another adaptation of resistance training is that of our body's nervous system actually becoming more efficient. This occurs primarily through the activation and utilization more muscle fibers when you participate in strength training. In other words, you can turn on and use your muscle mass better if you've been actively performing strength training.
Resistance training can help to slow age-related decline in muscle mass. While many people think of six-pack abs and bulging biceps when they think of strength training, the truth is that this type of training is well-known for improving functional tasks such as lifting, standing from a chair, getting off the floor, or even walking. The unfortunate truth is that as a part of aging, these routine movements will become challenging for many of us. Another topic we frequently discuss is the scary fact that 1 in 2 people over the age of 80 years old will fall. Strength training may help to prevent some of these falls and associated injuries.
Not only does resistance training improve strength, but it can lead to other vital improvements as we seek to participate in healthy aging. For example, a recently published research trial in the Journal of American Geriatrics, was able to draw a positive connection between increased muscular strength and brain function in individuals with mild cognitive impairment. In this study, individuals performed resistance weight-training activities twice per week for six months. During the sessions, the subjects trained at 80% of their peak strength. The researchers noted that as individuals got stronger, their cognitive function improved as well. In a previous study, these same researchers have also shown a correlation between weight training and increased brain size.
Furthermore, there have been published studies that have linked resistance training to reducing systolic blood pressure (the top number of a measurement), as well as stroke and heart disease related deaths. One of the more fascinating studies that I've read lately came from researchers at Penn State and Columbia University. Their study, published earlier this year, followed elderly adults for 15 years or until death. In their publication, the adults who participated in strength training at least twice per week had 46 percent lower odds of death for any reason than those who did not perform strength training. In addition, they had 41 percent lower odds of cardiac death, and 19 percent lower odds of dying from cancer than the non-strength group.
The National Health Interview Survey has recently reported that about 9 percent of individuals 65 and older are participating in strengthening exercises twice a week, the current American Hearth Association's recommended amount. I would love to see this number go up in our community as we all focus on healthy living.
You never go wrong by getting strong.