It’s official… you’re never too old to pick up the weights! A new study by Spanish researchers published in the journal Age has reported dramatic benefits in the muscle strength of the over 90 crowd with simple bi-weekly exercises over a three-month period.

The September 2013 randomized controlled human clinical trial monitored 24 institutionalized individuals, average age of 91.9 years, from the Pamplona region in Spain who were randomized into either exercise or control groups. The exercise group completed a three-month long bi-weekly multicomponent exercise program composed of muscle power training (8 to 10 reps at 40-60% of the one-rep maximum), balance and gait retraining. The control group did perform mobility exercises 4 days per week but these passive movements were not considered as weight training. Upper and lower limb strength and power tests were performed as well as walking speed over 5 meters. Other assessed components included the ability to rise from a chair and the incidence and risk of falls from questionnaires. The results showed that even at age 90 and above, the exercise group showed improvements in many of the tests. Walking speed, in particular, which remained constant for the exercise group slowed by 8% in the control group; fall incidence which  dropped to “zero” in the exercise group but was still significant in the control group; and rising from a chair test, performed by counting the number of times the person could rise from a chair and sit down again in 30 seconds, this measure alone increased by a whopping 58% (from 6.2 to 9.8 times) in the exercise group but dropped slightly in the control group. These observations tied in nicely with increases in hand grip, hip flexion, knee extension strength as well as maximal power measures.

The use it or lose it adage is true for all ages, and muscle strength training has health benefits for everyone but  especially so as we age since we lose muscle mass. Whether weightlifting or aerobics, exercise not only improves our physiques and helps us lose weight, it also improves our brains.

Published November 1, 2013