July 13, 2024

Lifting heavy weights three times a week around retirement age can dramatically preserve your leg strength into later life, research suggests.

People naturally lose muscle function as they age, and experts say faltering bone strength is a strong predictor of death in the elderly.

Previous smaller studies have suggested that resistance training, which may involve weights, body weight or resistance bands, can help prevent this.

Now researchers led by the University of Copenhagen have found that 12 months of heavy resistance training around retirement age preserves vital bone strength years later.

“In well-functioning older adults at retirement age, one year of heavy resistance training can produce long-lasting beneficial effects by preserving muscle function,” the researchers wrote.

Their findings were published in the journal BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine.

Researchers studied 451 people around retirement age who were involved in the Live Active Successful Aging (Lisa) study, a large randomized controlled trial.

The participants were randomly assigned to undergo either one year of heavy resistance training, one year of moderate-intensity training or one year of no extra exercise on top of their usual activity.

Those in the weight group lifted heavy weights three times a week. People in the moderate intensity group did circuits such as bodyweight exercises and resistance bands three times a week.

Each exercise in the heavy weight group involved three sets of six to 12 repetitions at between 70% and 85% of the maximum weight the person could lift for one repetition.

Bone and muscle strength and levels of body fat were measured at the start of the research and then again after one, two and four years. At the four-year mark, full results were available for 369 people.

At the end of the study, people were 71 years old on average, and 61% were women.

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Those in the heavy weights group maintained their leg strength over time, while those who did no exercise or at moderate intensity lost strength, the results showed.

Leg strength was preserved at the same level in the heavy weights resistance training group, possibly due to nervous system changes in response to resistance training, the researchers suggested. This difference was statistically significant, they added.

The researchers said people in the study were generally more active than the population as a whole — walking an average of nearly 10,000 steps a day — and so were not necessarily a representative sample.

However, they concluded: “This study provides evidence that resistance training with heavy loads at retirement age can have long-term effects over several years.

“The results therefore offer ways for practitioners and policy makers to encourage older individuals to participate in heavy resistance training.”

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