What fitness training programs work best for older adults? Many of the declines in fitness that we used to think were part of the normal aging process are actually due to older adults becoming more sedentary. Much of the lost physical capacity and strength can be replaced as long as we continue to make fitness training programs a priority.
Fitness Training Programs are Important as We Age
Your maximum aerobic capacity, or VO2 max, decreases about one percent per year after age 25. This is mostly due to declines in maximum heart rate and lung function.
However, engaging in regular endurance exercise can improve your VO2 max no matter what your age, allowing you to maintain a higher aerobic capacity than your sedentary contemporaries.
Research shows that we also lose muscle mass as we age. This normal aging process is known as sarcopenia. But, this muscle can be replaced by resistance training.
New Research on the Best Fitness Training Programs for Aging Muscles
The New York Times reports on a new study to determine what type of fitness training programs work best to restore aerobic capacity and strengthen muscles as we age.
The toll that aging takes on a body extends all the way down to the cellular level. The damage to cells in older muscles is especially severe because they don’t regenerate easily. Cells also weaken as their mitochondria, which produce energy, diminish in vigor and number.
A recent published in Cell Metabolism, however, suggests that certain types of fitness training programs may undo some of what the years can do to our mitochondria.
While we all know that exercise is good for people, scientists have surprisingly little understanding of its cellular impacts. We know even less about how particular fitness training programs might benefit people of various ages.
The Study on Best Fitness Training Programs for Older Adults
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota recently conducted a study to determine the best fitness training programs for older people. The study compared two groups of sedentary adults.
The study enrolled 36 men and 36 women from two age groups. One group was “young” volunteers between the ages of 18 and 30. This group was compared to “older” volunteers who were 65-80 years old.
First, the researchers took baseline measures to establish the volunteers’ aerobic fitness, blood-sugar levels, gene activity and the mitochondrial health in their muscle cells. Then they randomly assigned them to a particular exercise regimen.
• One group did vigorous weight training several times a week.
• A second group did brief interval training three times a week on stationary bicycles.
They pedaled hard for four minutes, rested for three and then repeated that sequence three more times.
• A third group rode stationary bikes at a moderate pace for 30 minutes a few times a week and lifted weights lightly on other days.
• The final group, the control, did not exercise.
Results of Study of Best Fitness Training Programs for Older Adults
Here are the findings of the Mayo Clinic study to determine the best physical training programs for older adults.
After 12 weeks, the lab tests were repeated. In general, everyone experienced improvements in fitness and an ability to regulate blood sugar. Some differences were expected, but others were surprising.
• Not surprisingly, the gains in muscle mass and strength were greater for those who exercised only with weights. Those who focused on interval training increased their endurance the most.
• For the moderate exercisers and the weight lifters, but groups achieved changes in their genes, but the younger group showed more significant improvements.
• But, there were some surprises in the biopsied muscle cells.
• Among those who did interval training, the results were different and unexpected.
• The younger volunteers who did interval training showed a 49% increase in mitochondrial activity. But the older group achieved a more dramatic 69% improvement.
Many of these affected genes, especially in the cells of the interval trainers, are believed to influence the ability of mitochondria to produce energy for muscle cells. The volunteers who did the interval workouts showed increases in the number and health of their mitochondria. These changes were particularly pronounced among the older cyclists.
Dr. Sreekumaran Nair, a professor of medicine and an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic and the study’s senior author, summarized the findings. “It seems as if the decline in the cellular health of muscles associated with aging was ‘corrected’ with exercise, especially if it was intense. In fact, older people’s cells responded in some ways more robustly to intense exercise than the cells of the young did.”
His advice: It is never too late to benefit from exercise.
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