“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength” – Betty Friedan
Human aging is a natural process that is inevitable. The body is subjected to muscle atrophy (Sarcopenia), weakness and functional impairment that are experienced in the fourth decade of life. From there the strength loss is approximately around 1% and accelerates with every passing decade (3, 8). This loss of muscle in combination with increase body fat composition leads to the ‘fat frail’ issue, ‘fat frail’ individuals tend to suffer more from lifestyle issues in comparison to someone frail and non obese (1).
Our rising geriatric population in the country brings its own unique challenges. According to United Nation Population Division, the older Indian population is projected to increase in the next four decades. By the mid century, the geriatric group is expected to be around 323 million people, a number far greater than the total U.S. population in 2012 (9). The increasing number in the geriatric population brings in a number social, economic and health issues. One of them is the health and fitness improvement of this subset, so as to improve the overall quality of life and the independence in their functional abilities.
Strength and Age – Correlation
Strength can be defined as the maximum force generation capacity of an individual. Its force generation capacity peaks in the second and the third decade. Research has posited that the force generation capacity shows a slow decline till the age of 50, after that is declines at a rate of approximately 12 – 15% per decrease with a rapid force generation loss above the age of 65 years (1). It is interesting to know that most of the research has considered only healthy older population; the decline of muscle function in the whole would be even greater if we include older individuals suffering from lifestyle disorders (1). Furthermore, the tendons in older adults tend to work in the higher region of the maximal tendon force. More likely this compensatory operation happens closer to muscle optimal length because of the reduction in force. As a result this affects functional movement’s more specifically, increasing the movement time (MT) to decelerate body mass, a paramount in the prevention of falls (1,2,4,5,6).
Intervention with Strength Training
Age-related losses in bone mineral, basal metabolic rate and increased body fat content can be avoided through physical exercise and training. Through resistance training it may be possible to prevent Sarcopenia and lifestyle associated abnormalities i.e. type II diabetes, coronary artery disease, osteoporosis and obesity (4, 8). According to some research, resistance training was able to improve the functional strength of the elderly population. Specifically, it mentioned that heavier loads would be able to improve the force development aspect of the individual. During the experiment, individuals dependent on walking cane after the exercise intervention were independent in their own capacity. Certain percentages of people using the support of their arm to get up from the chair were able to use their leg strength in the later stage of the exercise program (1).
Advantages of Strength Training
The most important advantage of strength training is Anti-aging, anti-aging means reversing the aging process. It’s been suggested that Strength training can reverse aging at the gene level. It also affects the metabolic function of the mitochondria and reduces the cumulative effect of oxidative stress (7).
As we age the neurological pathways do get affected and that affects the overall movement time (MT) of an aged person. Aging increases the size of the motor unit and results in sub optimal signaling and firing at maximal contraction. With weight training the force generation capacity of the muscle improves because the motor unit functions optimally.
As mentioned previously, old age people improve their strength through weight training and are able to improve their muscle mass with improved body composition. As a benefit of increased strength the functional capacity of the geriatric person is improved.
Improved body composition
Reduce in body composition would keep away the lifestyle related disorders. The elderly would be able to avoid diabetes, blood pressure and chronic conditions.
To conclude, strength training would be an ideal way to improve the functional parameters of the geriatric population. With the right kind of intervention we would be able to control the lifestyle issues making the subset for independent and confident in their activities of daily living (ADL). As the saying goes – “Age is just a number”
1. G.R.Hunter, J.P. McCarthy and M.M. Bamman (2004) Effects of Resistance Training on Older Adults, Sports Medicine, 34, 329-348.
2. J.A. Kent_Braun. (2009) Skeletal Muscle Fatigue in Old Age: Whose Advantage? Exercise Sport Science Review, 37: 3-9.
3. J.E. Morley, R.N. Baumgartner, R. Roubenoff, J.Mayer and K.S. Nair (2000). Sarcopenia, Presented at the seventy-third Meeting of the Central Society for Clinical Research, Chicago, IL.
4. J.F.Hopp (1993) Effects of Age and Resistance Training on Skeletal Muscle: A Review, Physical Therapy, 73: 361-373.
5. K.E. Yarasheski. (2003) Exercise, Aging, and Muscle Protein Metabolism. Journal of Gerontology: MEDICAL SCIENCES, 58A:918-922.
6. N.D. Reeves, M.V.Narici and C.N.Magnaris. (2006) Myotendinous plasticity to ageing and resistance exercise in humans. Experimental Physiology, 91: 483-498.
7. Melov S., Tarnopolsky M.A., Beckman K., Felkey K., and Hubbard A. (2007) Resistance Exercise Reverses Aging in Human Skeletal Muscle. PLoS ONE 2(5): e465. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000465
8. W.J. Evans and W.W. Campbell. (1993) Sarcopenia and Age-Related Changes in Body Composition and Functional Capacity. The Journal of Nutrition, 465-468.