Lifelong Strength Training in Aging Societies

Andy HO

Associate Professor of Chinese Culture University, Chinese Taipei

Human life expectancy has been expended in recent years because of the development of healthcare system and medical technology. However, while the length of life is getting longer, the quality of life is not guaranteed to increase at the same time.

When people age, the loss of functional capability of the body results in a decrease in quality of life. When people age, several major problems may occur including sarcopenia, osteopenia and different forms of metabolic syndromes. Sarcopenia refers to the gradual loss of muscle mass, and osteopenia is the decrease of bone mineral density. The loss of muscle mass results in decrease in functional strength, which would heavily affect the capability for aging people to take care of themselves, live independently, and most important, enjoy life. The loss of bone mineral density may be related to the increased risk of falling and fracture, which might results in series injury or death. The decrease in muscle mass is not only related the loss of functional capability, but the changed metabolic rate is also related to the increase of body fat. Low muscle mass and fragile bones combined with excessive body fat lead to a serious health condition. Without proper intervention, changes in body functions with age will, directly or indirectly, result in increased costs of healthcare. As a result, functional capability and the quality of life of the elderlies become the first priority in many of the aging societies.

While the aging process seemed to be inevitable, evidence showed that many of the loss of body functions while aging partially resulted from being physically inactive, instead of simply getting older. Thus, it is an accepted idea that as people get older, they need to exercise, or at least being active. However, there is currently no simple suggestion about how the elderly should engage in exercise and physical activities. Due to the common belief that the neuromuscular function and body structure may deteriorate with age, many people believe that the elderlies should engage in light or moderate physical activities, in order to prevent exercise-related risks. These guidelines or suggestions, however, may not be sufficient to counter the aging process.

Light or moderate physical activities may not be effective enough to stimulate the growth of muscle mass and bones. Heavy resistance training, when done properly and progressively, can reverse the process of aging in terms of muscle function and bone structure, even for people who started training in later life. Research showed that strength training can increase the size and strength of the muscle groups as well as strengthen the bone structure. Thus, the purpose of this presentation is to explain the rationale of introducing heavy resistance training to the aging population and provide brief guidelines about how to engage in safe and effective training programs.