ATHENS, Ohio – Men over 60 may be able to increase their strength by as much as 80 percent by performing intense weight training exercises, according to physiologists involved in studies of the health benefits of weight lifting. The researchers also have found that older men gain strength at the same rate as men in their 20s.

In a study of 18 men ages 60 to 75, Ohio University physiologists found that subjects who participated in a 16-week, high-intensity resistence training program on average were 50 percent to 80 percent stronger by the end of the study. None of the participants had engaged in weight lifting prior to the study. Researchers also observed improvements in the seniors’ muscle tone, aerobic capacity and cholesterol profile.

These are some of the latest findings from a decades-long examination of the impact of exercise on the health of men and women of all ages. When researchers compared the strength gains of the elderly participants in this study to findings from other studies they’ve done of college-age men, they found that changes in strength and muscle size were similar in both age groups. The findings were published in a recent issue of the Journal of Gerontology.

“There have been a number of research projects that have come out over the years that suggest there is no age limitation to getting stronger from resistance training,” said Robert Staron, co-author of this study and an associate professor of anatomy in the university’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. “It’s become obvious that it’s important to maintain a certain amount of muscle mass as we age.”

This new study also suggests that elderly men can handle heavy workloads over a long period of time. Participants – who all were in good health and closely monitored during testing and training – performed leg presses, half squats and leg extensions twice a week to exercise the lower body. When the men began the study, they were able to leg press about 375 pounds on average. After the 16-week period, they could take on about 600 pounds. Studies elsewhere have involved low-intensity exercises over a shorter term.

In addition to the increase in strength, researchers found that weight lifting had a beneficial impact on the participants’ cardiovascular system. Tests on an exercise treadmill showed that their bodies used oxygen more efficiently after weight training.

“The individuals run until they are completely exhausted, and it took longer for them to reach that point after resistance training,” Staron said.

Blood samples taken before and after weight training also showed favorable changes in participants’ overall cholesterol profiles, he said, including increases in HDL cholesterol levels and decreases in LDL cholesterol levels.

Losing muscle tone and strength is not uncommon for many senior citizens, Staron said, but this research suggests that a lack of physical exercise can contribute to the problem.

“Certainly, inactivity does play a role in contributing to the decrease in muscle mass,” Staron said. “If we can maintain a certain level of strength through exercise, our quality of life should be better as we age.”

Before beginning a weight lifting regimen, it’s a good idea to consult a physician, Staron advised, adding that it’s also important to learn proper weight lifting techniques. Staron and his colleagues now have turned their attention to how certain weight training routines impact young people.

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Article adapted by MD Sports from original press release.
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Contact: Andrea Gibson
Ohio University

Collaborators on this project are Fredrick Hagerman, Robert Hikida and Thomas Murray of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, former graduate student Seamus Walsh, Roger Gilders of the College of Health and Human Services, Kumika Toma of the College of Arts and Sciences and Kerry Ragg of the Student Health Service.

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