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Benefits Vs. Risks of Strength Training for the Older Adult

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Benefits vs. Risks of Strength Training for the Older Adult

Paul H. Roberts

Utah Valley University

Nursing 490R

February 17, 2012

Mina Wayman, RN, MSN, GNP


What if someone was to offer you a way to increase your physical functioning capacity and reduce the symptoms and signs of chronic conditions and diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, heart disease, insomnia, and depression? Would you be interested in what that person has to say? As you read you will learn how to decrease the signs and symptoms of all of the conditions just mentioned and improve your overall physical health (CDC, 2011). To acquire these benefits you must be willing to do what is known as strength training, also referred to as resistance training or weight training. Strength training has proven to be beneficial for all ages. However, as with any type of workout program there are risks. Therefore, are the benefits offered through a strength training program worth the risks involved with such a regimen? This article will focus on the benefits and risks associated with strength training as it relates to the older adult.

Improved Physical Function

One of the benefits that pertain to strength training includes an individual's ability to improve his or her overall physical functioning. As people age a degenerative loss of muscle mass begins to occur, known as sarcopenia (Alfonso J. Cruz-Jentoft, 2010). When an individual loses muscle mass they begin to lose normal functioning, this is because of the fact that muscles are used in all we do. For instance, sitting down and standing up utilizes the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, tibialis anterior, and the core muscles (Weir, 2011). When muscles atrophy they become weak; however, strength training is able to counteract this atrophy or sarcopenia.

During resistance training muscles are required to work, as the muscles are used throughout the exercise they breakdown. While the body rests it rebuilds the muscle tissues that were broken or slightly torn. The body feels the aching and pain related to the muscles being minimally damaged. Nevertheless, the damage is necessary to allow rebuilding which will enable the muscle to become stronger and improve overall physical functioning. Progressive resistance training programs implemented two to three times a week with a full day of rest in between workouts has been shown to improve physical functioning and balance in the older adult (Kathleen Kline Mangione, 2010).

Tufts University | Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy located in Boston Massachusetts performed research on strength training and how it improves health. One of the things they found in their study was that older adults who had knee osteoarthritis were able to decrease their pain by 43% after completing a sixteen-week strength training workout program. Moreover, participants who increased their muscle strength and their overall physical performance, experienced an improvement in their signs and symptoms of the osteoarthritis, and they had decreased disability. Researchers found that when trying to control pain strength training was equally comparable to the use of pain medication. In fact, in many instances strength training worked better at controlling pain than did the actual pain meds. Also, resistance training had a similar outcome when reducing pain in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (CDC, 2011).


Furthermore, Tufts University has also done studies pertaining to diabetes and strength training. Diabetes is increasing every year in the United States of America (USA) and places patients at a greater risk for acquiring renal disease and heart problems. Diabetes damages smaller blood vessels more rapidly, causing blindness if symptoms are not controlled. However, strength training is helping to greatly improve the condition. Tufts University also did a study where women and men of Hispanic descent were put through 16 weeks of strength training. After the 16th week the researchers found that substantial improvements were made regarding the blood glucose levels of the patients involved in the study. The improvement that took place due to strength training was so remarkable that it could be compared to a diabetic patient who was faithfully taking his/her insulin medication (CDC, 2011).

Bone Mass

As we get older we begin to lose bone mass as well as muscle mass. Women are at a significantly increased risk for bone mass deterioration, especially women who are post-menopausal. A post-menopausal female can actually decrease bone mass by 1-2% each year if she is not getting sufficient calcium and exercising regularly. However, in 1994 Tufts University undertook a study which helped women to see that strength training augments bone density as well as reducing the likelihood of fractures in women from age 50-70 (CDC, 2011).


Within the USA obesity has almost become an epidemic. The American diet is high in fat and sugar. Fortunately, weight training (strength training) can help control weight gain. Muscles use up energy (calories), whether it be from sugars, fats, or proteins. As we keep our muscles active, our metabolism increases and this helps our body to burn more calories. In fact, strength training can enable our metabolic rate to increase up to 15% more than its normal ability to burn calories. Therefore, as we increase our muscle mass through strength training we will begin to see a control in weight and a decrease in obesity (CDC, 2011).


When bodies are leaner, cardiovascular problems decrease. A study encountered that cardiac patients who participated in a resistance training program three times per week were much stronger, more flexible, and had much more longevity aerobically. The increase in aerobic longevity demonstrates how strength training



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