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Resistance training: A fountain of youth?

Chuck, please address the issue of strength-increasing exercises for older adults. I read a study in which a 90-year-old man and a 21-year-old engaged in correspondingly appropriate weight training. The claim was that both of them had the same percentage strength increase. That doesn’t seem possible. – Donald B., Bryan, Texas

Researchers recently discovered that older adults must exercise more often to maintain increases in muscle size and strength.

The American College of Sports Medicine, which is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world, reported in this month’s edition of its journal, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, about how a team of ACSM researchers conducted a two-phase exercise trial, which “sought to determine the appropriate exercise dose to maintain muscle mass, muscle size and strength in older (between ages 60 and 75) and younger (between ages 20 and 35) adults.”

Marcas Bamman, Ph.D., who led the study and is a researcher with the University of Alabama at Birmingham, concluded, “Our data are the first to suggest that older adults require greater weekly maintenance dosing than younger individuals to maintain resistance-training-induced increases in muscle mass.”

The research showed that though once-a-week exercise is sufficient to maintain muscle strength and size in younger adults, it was not the case in older adults, whose muscle size shrank even if they exercised one day a week.

The conclusion of the research is clear: The key for older adults to maintain (let alone build) their muscle mass and strength is to engage in resistance exercises frequently.

Resistance exercise is a type of strength training focused on building muscle power and size.

Livestrong.com says, “It can be done using the body parts in opposition to each other or another static force – or by using weights or machines.”

Essentially, any activity, movement or exercise that causes that type of muscular tension and strain can be considered resistance exercise. ACSM’s study used leg presses, knee extensions and squats.

One of the reasons I have endorsed the Total Gym since 1976 is it utilizes body weight and gravity to produce some of the best resistance training I know of (in a few weeks, I will share in “C-Force” how I used the Total Gym to rehabilitate my shoulder after I pulled a rotator cuff).

There are multiple benefits of resistance exercise outside of muscular ones. A study on brainpower published in the January 2010 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine demonstrated that 12 months’ worth of once-weekly or twice-weekly resistance strength training improved executive cognitive function (i.e., abilities necessary for independent living) in women ages 65 to 75. One year later, a follow-up study conducted at the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility revealed additional benefits of resistance training in older adults, such as other cognitive enhancers and economic savings on health care.

My 90-year-old mother is healthy as an ox, relatively speaking. She attributes her well-being to her positive mental attitude, faith in God and keeping active. Of course, she eats well, too; that includes her occasional Oklahoman binge on fried okra, grits and other Southern delicacies. She recently completed her autobiography, “Acts of Kindness: My Story” (available only at ChuckNorris.com). Even in preparing to autograph her books, she uses resistance training, by squeezing a small rubber ball dozens of times to strengthen her forearm and grip so that her hand doesn’t get tired of signing!

As we age, frequent resistance training is the name of the game. It can build not only muscle strength and mass but also brainpower, and it has economic benefits.

I’ll be upfront with you. Exercising will not necessarily be easier as you age, but it can produce even more meaningful benefits than it did when you were younger if you hang in there and keep resisting in your training.

But if you are an older adult, you already know that there is no prize without perseverance, right?

I guess that’s why my mother titled the last chapter in her autobiography “Growing old ain’t no place for sissies!”

Next week, I will give my top 10 resistance exercises for older adults.

For a more holistic medical approach, my wife, Gena, and I recommend Sierra Integrative Medical Center in Reno, Nev. The people there are pioneers in integrative medicine. They blend the best of conventional medicine with the best alternative therapies.