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How might strength training help us age with healthier bodies?

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Even after retiring, some people are capable of amazing strength and endurance accomplishments. The good news is that you don’t need to run a marathon or bench press 300 pounds to reap the rewards of strength training.

For more than 40 years, NIA-funded researchers have been examining the impacts of strength training and have shown a number of ways exercise might help older persons, including preserving muscle mass, enhancing mobility, and extending the number of healthy years. Discover more about these discoveries from NIA-funded researchers below, along with their advice for retaining or gaining strength as we age.

Use it or lose it: muscle mass

For many older persons, movement restrictions due to age are a reality of life. According to studies, 30% of persons over the age of 70 struggle to walk, get out of a chair, or climb stairs. Mobility issues complicate routine chores and are associated with greater rates of death, chronic illness, nursing home admission, and falls.

The age-related decrease of muscle mass and strength, or sarcopenia, is a major factor in how our physical capacities decline as we age. Strength and muscular mass typically build gradually starting at birth and peak between ages 30 and 35.
From then, muscular strength and performance begin to diminish gradually and linearly, but after age 65 for women and 70 for males, the decline becomes more pronounced. Those results come from the longest-running research of human ageing, the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA), which invented a battery of quick tests called the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB) decades ago to monitor muscle performance and mobility.

The SPPB evaluates a person on a scale of zero to four after measuring their balance, walking speed, and ability to get up from a chair five times.

The usual loss of strength and power that comes with ageing can be significantly slowed down by continuing to lead an active lifestyle. While there is no way to completely “stop the clock,” many older persons may build up their physical strength via exercise, which can support independence and mobility into old age.

Eric Shiroma, Sc.D., an expert at the National Institutes of Health (NIA), has long researched the science of exercise and is a proponent of exercises that increase the difficulty of our regular tasks. One such activity is “rucking,” which involves wearing a weighted vest or backpack while walking.

He points out that understanding how and why our bodies change as we get older—and perhaps more crucially, how and why these changes might differ from person to person—is essential to understanding the diversity of reactions to exercise.

Age-related functional and biological restrictions may affect exercise capacity, maximal strength, and fitness, according to Shiroma. “An active lifestyle that includes strength training can slow down some of these restrictions. In everyday life, it is challenging to explore these boundaries, though. Because these limitations may be tested in the clinic, studies like the BLSA are unique.

For instance, research participants could be asked to climb stairs or walk or run on a treadmill for as long as they feel comfortable doing so in order to assess their strength and endurance. How people react to physical difficulties and exercise also depends on hereditary and environmental factors.

Researchers want to provide older persons evidence-based guidance on how routinely moving and testing their muscles may assist increase their years of peak health by evaluating people’s limitations and variability.

A study of strength

Roger A. Fielding, Ph.D., a researcher financed by the National Institute on Aging and associate director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University outside of Boston, is a fervent advocate of keeping our muscles active as we age. He directs several research to learn more about how resistance training can increase mobility and independence, prevent frailty, and reverse age-related changes in muscle structure and function.

In Fielding’s study, older persons with moderate mobility issues were divided into a community-based group and given a variety of muscle-training activities to try out. Fielding contends that understanding what occurs within our bodies when we train our muscles is crucial to understanding the significance of preserving muscular mass.

Exercises that are considered aerobic, like jogging, cycling, or walking, are not the same as strength training, commonly referred to as resistance training. Resistance training includes activities like weightlifting, which can be done with machines or free weights.
Other varieties include body weight exercises like pushups, squats, or yoga, as well as employing medicine balls or resistance bands. Our muscles must contract during resistance training in order to raise a heavy item against the force of gravity.

Our bodies burn up stores of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a chemical that transports energy to cells, more quickly the more weight we exert ourselves against. Our ATP reserves are refilled as we lift weights or perform other strenuous exercises through a complex, coordinated metabolic and chemical response that cascades throughout the entire body. This response includes causing brief chemical changes in muscle tissue’s DNA that make them more tuned to particular proteins supporting sugar and fat metabolism.

A mix of walking and resistance training has been discovered by Fielding and his colleagues to be the optimum formula for enhancing physical function and preventing disability. A physical fitness trainer leads small-group exercise sessions for older adult volunteers in the NIA-funded study.

Several of these studies were carried out at Tufts, but the programme has subsequently been extended to neighbourhood senior centres and gyms in the Boston region. Not having a flawless abs or doing incredible physical feats is the objective. Instead, participants utilise various kinds of dumbbells and ankle weights, or they modify movements as necessary to employ their own body weight.

According to Fielding and his colleagues, the group sessions also foster participant accountability and camaraderie, which helps keep participants motivated and persistent.

Fielding is a supporter of strength training personally, so he doesn’t simply speak the talk.

He stated, “I’ve always ran three or four times a week, but about three years ago, I started included strength training in my programme, and I feel stronger. “The best approach to achieve my aim of continuing to enjoy the activities I like, like downhill skiing, as long as I can is to strive to keep active.”

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