Weightlifting for the frail elderly doubled muscle strength

Exercise Training and Nutritional Supplementation for Physical Frailty in Very Elderly People

We conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled trial comparing progressive resistance exercise training, multinutrient supplementation, both interventions, and neither in 100 frail nursing home residents over a 10-week period.
The mean (±SE) age of the 63 women and 37 men enrolled in the study was 87.1 ±0.6 years (range, 72 to 98); 94 percent of the subjects completed the study. Muscle strength increased by 113 ±8 percent in the subjects who underwent exercise training, as compared with 3 ±9 percent in the nonexercising subjects (P<0.001). Gait velocity increased by 11.8 ±3.8 percent in the exercisers but declined by 1.0 ±3.8 percent in the nonexercisers (P = 0.02). Stair-climbing power also improved in the exercisers as compared with the nonexercisers (by 28.4 ±6.6 percent vs. 3.6 ±6.7 percent, P = 0.01), as did the level of spontaneous physical activity. Cross-sectional thigh-muscle area increased by 2.7 ±1.8 percent in the exercisers but declined by 1.8 ±2.0 percent in the nonexercisers (P = 0.11). The nutritional supplement had no effect on any primary outcome measure. Total energy intake was significantly increased only in the exercising subjects who also received nutritional supplementation. CONCLUSIONS High-intensity resistance exercise training is a feasible and effective means of counteracting muscle weakness and physical frailty in very elderly people. In contrast, multinutrient supplementation without concomitant exercise does not reduce muscle weakness or physical frailty.

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The nutritional intervention produced no change in the results, but according to the full paper, it consisted of a 360 calorie liquid that was 60% carbohydrate, 23% fat, and 17% soy protein, and was mainly designed to augment calories and vitamins and minerals. That’s only about 14 grams of protein extra daily. So I wouldn’t expect that to do much. They might have seen better results with a whey shake a couple times a day.

That being said, the results were remarkable and show, I think, that much of the pathology of aging is due to inactivity, disuse, and atrophy. If every adult lifted weights, they could avoid or greatly delay entrance into a nursing home, especially since muscle weakness is a prime cause of frailty and being unable to care for oneself.


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