High Intensity Strength Training in Nonagenarians

Muscle dysfunction and associated mobility impairment, common among the frail elderly, increase the risk of falls, fractures, and functional dependency. Therefore, it is important for nonagenarians to gently increase their strength through an appropriate strength training program.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, known as “High-Intensity Strength Training in Nonagenarians: Effects on Skeletal Muscle”, they sought to characterize the muscle weakness of the very old and its reversibility through strength training. Ten frail, institutionalized volunteers aged 90+ years undertook 8 weeks of high intensity strength training. What they found was that health and mobility was improved by several factors that they measured. Initially, quadriceps strength was correlated negatively with walking time. Fat-free mass  and regional muscle mass were correlated positively with muscle strength. Strength gains averaged 174% in the 9 subjects who completed training. Mid-thigh muscle area increased 9%. Mean tandem gait speed improved 48% after training.

To perform the study, the 8-week training protocol used was an adaptation of standard rehabilitation principles of progressive-resistance training, employing concentric (lifting) and eccentric (lowering) muscle contraction. The initial one repetition maximum was used to set the load for the first week at 50% of the one repetition maximum. Three times per week the subjects performed three sets of eight repetitions with each leg in 6 to 9 seconds per repetition, with a 1- to 2- minute rest period between sets. By the second week, or as tolerated, the load was increased to 80% of the one repetition maximum. The one repetition maximum was remeasured every 2 weeks and the training stimulus adjusted to keep the load at 80% of the new one repetition maximum. Training was conducted under constant individual supervision by one of the study investigators, with intermittent monitoring of pulse rate and blood pressure. All physiological measurements were obtained at baseline and repeated within 1 week of completion of training. One repetition maximum measurements additionally were repeated after 2 and 4 weeks of detraining.

What they concluded was that high-resistance weight training leads to significant gains in muscle strength, size, and functional mobility among frail residents of nursing homes up to 96 years of age.

To read the study, click here: High-Intensity Strength Training_in_Nonagenarians_

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