Posts tagged aging
Resistance Training Improves Older Adults' Quality Of Life

Inactive adults can expect up to a 5% loss of muscle mass each decade after age 30. This loss of muscle tissue, sarcopenia, occurs in part due to lack of exercise and is a major cause of disability and lost independence among aging adults. To combat this weakness experts recommend each American adult should participate in weekly Resistance Training sessions. According to our National Physical Activity Guidelines, the recommended amount of strength training involves exercising major muscle groups at least 2 times a week. Previous research has shown this frequency of strength training exercise can increase strength, muscle mass, and bone density among older adults.

A recent review of the available evidence was conducted by researchers investigating the relationship between strength training and quality of life in older adults (Hart et al. Health Promotion Perspective. 2019). Authors reviewed 16 research articles and found resistance training had a significant effect on both mental and physical health variables. They reported significant improvements in both health related quality of life and bodily pain among the trained participants compared to their sedentary peers. Specifically, resistance training was found to positively effect emotional and social functions within overall quality of life scores.

This article adds to the existing literature on the mental and emotional benefits of exercise. Contact the experts at MEND to learn which exercises are most appropriate for you.

Daily Activity Shown To Improve Brain Health In Aging Adults And Elderly Even Those With Brain Pathology

The cognitive benefits of aerobic exercise are well established with trained individuals demonstrating decreased risk of mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, and improvements of cognitive function and memory compared to their sedentary peers. More recent research has documented daily physical activity is also associated with decreased risk of dementia in aging adults even in those with pathology on brain imaging such as neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques. Both of these brain pathologies are associated with dementia and alzheimer’s disease. Further previous research has shown moderate walking, 45 minutes/day for 3 days/week, actually increased brain volume among particpants. A recent study suggests even general activity such as light housework and gardening may be enough to improve brain health within this population.

Buchman and colleagues examined the impact of daily movement (gardening, housework, exercise) on cognitive and motor function, as well as, brain health (Neurology. 2019). Researchers performed a well designed trial of over 450 aging adults (> 70 y.o.) and monitored their mental and physical function, as well as, daily activity each year over a 20 year period. Of these adults, 191 demonstrated clinical signs of dementia during the study period. In addition, researchers studied the donated brains of these individuals after their deaths to determine the presence of brain abnormalities and pathology.

Consistent with prior research, more active participants demonstrates higher scores on cognitive, memory, and physical tests. Interestingly, these results held up even among individuals with brain pathologies including neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques. Although all of these individuals could have been diagnosed with neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, 30% tested normally on cognitive function tests at the time of their deaths. Authors suggested exercise and activity may have a protective effect on brain health (symptoms) even in the presence of brain changes (signs of dementia). Authors recommend more research in this area to determine if there is a cause and effect relationship between these two factors.

Aerobic Exercise Shown To Make The Body's Cells Younger

Aerobic exercise has been shown to improve our current mental, emotional, and physical health. In addition, aerobically trained individuals experience significant health benefits including decreased risk of chronic disease and premature death compared to their sedentary peers. In addition to these health benefits, scientists are also researching the impact of exercise on the aging process. New research is discovering exercise impacts aging at the cellular level. Scientists often measure a cell’s age by the length of the tip, telomere, of its’ chromosomes. Shorter chromosome length is associated with cellular dysfunction and cell death, but this length is modifiable through environment factors including exercise. A recent study examined the impact of exercise on chromosome and telomere length.

Werner and colleagues enrolled 124 inactive participants and randomized them into one of four groups including control, aerobic training, interval aerobic training, or resistance training (Eur Heart J. 2018). Both exercise groups attended 3 45 minute training sessions per week over the 6 month training period. Authors reported aerobic capacity, VO2 max, increased in the exercise groups but only the aerobic training group impacted the individual’s chromosomes. Aerobic training was shown to lengthen telomeres on the ends of chromosomes after the training period. Authors reported the length changes were important for a cell’s regenerative ability and healthy aging.

Lifelong Exercisers Age More Successfully

The average adult loses approximately 10% of their aerobic capacity, VO2 Max, each decade after age 30. Aerobic capacity is the ability of our bodies to utilize oxygen for work and exercise. The loss of aerobic capacity with aging is associated with the development of chronic diseases, as well as, a loss of function and independence in aging adults. As we have noted in previous blogs these health risks can be reduced by daily exercise. Despite the noted physical, mental, and emotional benefits close to 80% of Americans to not reach federal guidelines for weekly exercise. A recent research study reports lifelong exercise may have a preventative effect on the loss of aerobic capacity and cardiovascular health with aging.

Gries and colleagues in the Journal of Applied Physiology examined the effects of lifelong aerobic exercise on aerobic capacity and aging (2018). Authors compared lifelong exercisers to their untrained peers, as well as, young exercisers. They reported lifelong exercisers reported on average 7 hours of weekly exercise (5 days/week) over a 50 year period. Each of the three groups underwent VO2 max testing of aerobic capacity and a muscle biopsy from their thigh. Authors reported lifelong exercisers had cardiovascular systems which tested similar to those of individuals 30 years younger. Further, biopsy results appeared similar between the older lifelong exercisers and the younger, active participants.

This study adds to the overwhelming benefits of exercise on your health and the aging process.

Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Memory and the Aging Brain

Active adults have many health advantages over their sedentary peers.  The effects of aerobic exercise are widespread across a trained individual's emotional, physical, and mental health.  Recent research has highlighted the beneficial effects of aerobic exercise on anxiety, depression, cognition, and memory.  Many areas of the brain are sensitive to the effects of aerobic exercise and can be positively effected by this training.  In particular, the hippocampus, a small organ in the brain's limbic system crucial for long term memory and spatial navigation, has shown both neurogenesis and slower age related declines in trained individuals.  Researchers believe these positive effects are due in part to an increase in blood vessel formation and circulation driven by aerobic exercise.  In addition, exercise is also correlated with an increase in white matter within the brain.

A recent review of the medical evidence was conducted to determine the impact of aerobic exercise on hippocampus size in humans (Firth et al. 2018).  The authors included 14 studies utilizing brain imaging before and after aerobic exercise training.  They concluded exercise helped prevent the age related declines in nerve and hippocampus health.  Thus, exercise was not shown to improve hippocampus volume but instead preserved the organ's size compared to sedentary groups.  


Resistance Training the Aging Adult and Injury Prevention

There are few treatments more effective for the prevention and treatment of injuries and musculoskeletal conditions than resistance training.  Unfortunately, many Americans are not performing enough strengthening to prevent the loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia) which begins to occur in the 3rd decade of life.  After age 30 we begin to demonstrate a progressive loss of muscle mass, strength, and endurance due to the aging process.  Thankfully, this loss can be attenuated with strength training, but not solely aerobic and endurance training (Klitgaard et al. 1990).  This loss of strength becomes a risk factor for many health conditions including low back pain and knee osteoarthritis.  

It is important to note age does not seem to influence an individuals ability to perform strength training exercise.  A review article reported an average strength increase of 25-33% in older adults who began a strength training program (Peterson et al. 2010).  Participants performed 2-3 sets of 8-10 repetitions per exercise targeting major muscle groups 2 to 3 days per week.  These programs have also been shown to improve an adult's quality of life and prevent conditions such as osteoporosis, knee osteoarthritis and back pain.  

It is never too late to begin an exercise program and adults are encourage to speak with a local Physical Therapist to design a safe and effective exercise program to improve their quality of life and athletic performance.