Over nineties still react to strength training
A quarter of a century ago doctors regarded the idea that elderly people could benefit from strength training as utter nonsense. The study that changed this view was published in 1990 in JAMA, and was done by Maria Fiatarone. The scientist who worked at Tufts University showed that people in their eighties and nineties can become stronger and more muscular by doing weight training.
Strength training after 60
Studies of the effects of strength training on the over-sixties are published daily these days. Little attention is paid to them, probably because their most important message – strength training is good for you – is no longer regarded as sensational.
People are now turning their attention to the strength-training super agers: seniors in their seventies, eighties or nineties who do weight training and are unusually fit for their age. An example is the American Ernestine Shepherd, the 75-year-old bodybuilding grandma. [bbc.com 10 June 2012] Or Charles Eugster, a retired British dentist who started weight training at the age of 85 because he wanted to get back into shape. [telegraph.co.uk 24 Feb 2013]
In an interview with The Guardian, Eugster, who by that time was 93, explained that he had had a crisis at the age of 85. [theguardian.com 2 April 2011] "I looked at myself in the mirror one day, and saw an old man. I was overweight and there was skin hanging off me where muscle used to be. I looked like a wreck. I started to consider the fact that I was probably going to die soon. I knew I was supposed to slow down, but I'm vain. I missed my old body and wanted to be able to strut across the beach, turning heads."
Eugster, who already rowed almost daily, took up strength training. And this worked he told. "With weight-lifting and protein shakes, my body began to change. It became broader, more v-shaped, and my shoulders and biceps became more defined. People began to comment on how much younger I looked, and my new muscular frame drew a lot of admiring glances from women."
"I'm not chasing youthfulness", Eugster writes on his blog. [charleseugstersite.wordpress.com] "I'm chasing health. People have been brainwashed to think that after you're 65, you're finished."
Eugster himself was unbelievably fit still at the age of 85. But men and women of that age who are less fit can still react well to starting strength training. At least, a study that Fiatarone published in 1990 showed this.
In this particular study 6 women and 4 men aged between 86 and 96 trained their upper leg muscles three times a week on a leg-extension machine, with 80 percent of the weight at which they could just manage 1 rep. Each mini-workout consisted of three sets.
Fiatarone's subjects were not very fit, in fact during the aging process they had lost so much muscle that their mobility was severely reduced.
Scans showed that at the end of the eight weeks the subjects had built up muscle mass. Moreover, their maximal strength had also increased.
When the subjects ceased training their newly acquired muscular strength melted away again: after a month they'd lost all the strength that they had built up.
JAMA. 1990 Jun 13;263(22):3029-34.
Meta-study: DHEA improves body composition of older men 11.04.2014
Slow reps: strength training with light weights does give results 09.02.2014
People in their forties who exercise a lot still fit 25 years on 24.11.2013