Exercise Routine For Older Adults – On September 28, 2017, a mini-review of resistance exercise for older adults was published in the journal Experimental Gerontology, entitled “A minimal dose approach to resistance exercise for older adults; prevention of aging”.
This is a very exciting piece of research, exciting because of the simplicity and practicality of its conclusions and recommendations. This is the kind of paper I want to put in the hands of every individual over 60, as well as every health influencer in that age group. Remember, the exercise world would be a better place if all other resistance exercise research in the world were somehow decimated and this paper alone became the blueprint by which all adults of all ages begin their resistance exercise journey. No hype, no marketing, no unnecessary complexity – just simple, safe and useful greatness.
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Some famous names are behind the research; James Fisher, James Steele, Paulo Gentil, Jürgen Giessing and Wayne Westcott: they can also be called the A-Team for consistently publishing fascinating and above all practical research.
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Winding complete. Let’s take a look at why I’m so excited about this research and why I think you should be too. This is a must read for trainers, students, over 60s and anyone interested in getting the most out of resistance training.
The authors present a useful compilation of both the physiological and psychological benefits of resistance training (RT). For individuals looking for resistance training motivation, especially those who are older or moving in that direction, here are reasons why you might want to (these are great lists for personal trainers and fitness professionals too):
Wow, wait, if I had a patent on a drug that could offer the benefits listed above, they’d bite my arm off, hell, my whole arm. And you would stand in line at your healthcare provider to get a prescription. Well, I can’t offer you that cure, but I can present the findings of this research paper that will only require 20 minutes of mental and physical focus per week to achieve the same benefits. It’s a fantastic deal and the cumulative result of all these benefits is that you’ll feel better both mentally and physically and have a better quality of life. If you are 70 years old and start doing this, you may feel the best you have since your mid-twenties, and genetically, you may start acting like a twenty-year-old again!
Despite all the benefits of performing regular resistance training, incl. impact on aging and slowing aging, which I’ve written about before, there aren’t enough older people participating in the process, the authors state that “participation and adherence remain low.”
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What is preventing the aging population from reaping these benefits? The most frequently mentioned barriers are “time constraint and perceived difficulty”. It is precisely these obstacles that the authors of this paper specifically tried to reduce. The workout sessions (or routines) presented here last a minimum of 7 minutes and a maximum of 30 minutes, much shorter than most people think they should be in the gym.
Perceived problems are addressed by using “uncomplicated equipment/methods” such as stacking machines which dramatically shorten the learning curve required to exercise well, increase safety and are less intimidating/perceived as less difficult compared to eg free weights .
While the authors reviewed previously published research for clues about the minimum required dose of exercise to provide the benefits listed at the beginning of this article, they examined variables such as the load used, the volume of sets per exercise, and the frequency of exercise per week. The results show that any load that can be used to reach instantaneous muscle failure (MMF) in 60-90 seconds is suitable and any number of sets per exercise can be suitable. In terms of frequency of resistance training, some of the benefits were found to be achieved by exercising once a week, but in some cases not all. Specifically, the authors cite one piece of research that suggests that while strength and muscle activation continue to increase after dropping from 2 times per week to 1 time per week, muscle mass cross-sectional area does not. This study showed that a reduction in cross-sectional area can occur at lower frequency, leading Fisher et al. hypothesize that “it is possible that muscle function can be maintained with low-frequency training, whereas RT 2 days/week is required to maintain muscle mass.”
If an individual is going to benefit from a relatively low-frequency approach to resistance training, then research suggests that it is important to train at a high intensity of effort. Fisher et al. suggest two viable routes to this goal, the first is simply to exercise to instantaneous muscle failure (the point at which concentric movement is no longer possible), and the second is to perform multiple sets of exercises to create cumulative fatigue, resulting in a high level of effort intensity.
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My preference is to go the MMF route and get the job done efficiently and effectively in one set. However, if you want to build up fatigue over multiple sets and have the time to do so, this might suit you just as well. personal trainers should aim to get their clients to MMF in a single set, however at the very beginning of training and for coaching purposes you may want the client to reset and do several sets initially as the client learns the exercises and master training to termination.
Older adults who performed 6 months of supervised RT were unable to further gain or even maintain strength during a further 6 months of unsupervised RT.
This article highlights two main reasons why monitoring is important for older adults during exercise, the first being that it appears to improve adherence to a resistance exercise regimen. Second, and perhaps shockingly, as research by Steele et al. (2017), is that older adults who performed 6 months of supervised RT were unable to continue to gain or even maintain strength during a further 6 months of unsupervised RT. Their strength levels and functional tasks declined to the same degree as adults who simply stopped RT after the first 6 months of the study. This suggests that, in general, older adults who are sufficiently motivated to continue RT on their own after being well supervised and presumably well instructed/instructed on how to generate sufficient intensity are still unable to generate adequate intensity levels when training alone .
This highlights the importance of the role of a personal trainer who is well versed in high intensity resistance training and the impact you can have on exercise outcomes for older adults. All but the most motivated, dedicated and experienced exercisers of all ages are likely to achieve much better results from exercising with a personal trainer as often as possible, and even the most motivated and able exercisers will probably get more out of exercising under professional supervision at least occasionally. session.
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There is a need for more fitness professionals and personal trainers around the world who fully understand the value of resistance training, especially for older adults. These will be individuals who can not only teach proper exercise technique and biomechanics, but also understand the value of intensity of effort and its safe use. They, the best in their field, will also be skilled in communication and motivation skills.
Resistance training can be done on machines, with free weights and even without external load in the case of training with your own weight. What do researchers suggest as the optimal tool for older adults?
As an alternative option for those who do not have access to weight-lifting machines, the authors suggest that bodyweight training would also be suitable. They emphasize that bodyweight exercise requires more knowledge of technique and recommend that older adults who choose to exercise with bodyweight do so under professional supervision.
Fisher et al. point out that there is such a thing as excessive resistance training, although it can be difficult to precisely define the point at which the negative effects of too much training begin. Overtraining is the first dysfunctional condition that can occur from too much resistance training.
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Overreaching is a condition that professional athletes often know well, as it is likely that they will step on the line between normal performance and overtraining at least several times during the entire training year. If the athlete is properly withdrawn during the overload phase, recovery to normal can occur quickly (within about two weeks). If the initial signs and symptoms of overtraining are ignored and the athlete continues with normal training, then they may enter a state of overtraining from which it may take much longer to fully recover.
Regardless of what professional and serious amateur athletes go through to do the best they can in their sport, the authors point out that
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