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Men's Health

Weight Training: Not Just for Young Men

The words “weight training” are likely to conjure up images of young hardbodies, flexing muscles and pumping iron to build up strength and body tone. But a recent survey reveals the benefits of weight training in improving men’s strength can be felt whether you’re 25 or 75.

Men over 60 may be able to increase their strength by as much as 80 percent by performing intense weight training exercise, according to researchers at Ohio University. Moreover, older men gain strength at the same rate as younger men, the physiologists found.

In a study of 18 men ages 60 to 75, Ohio University physiologists found that individuals who participated in a 16-week, high-intensity resistance training program were 50 percent to 80 percent stronger, on average, by the end of the study. None of the participants had engaged in weight lifting prior to the study.

Improvements also were seen in seniors’ muscle tone, aerobic capacity and cholesterol profile, according to the results, which were published in the Journal of Gerontology.

These findings mark the latest discoveries from a decades-long look at the impact of exercise on the health of men and women of all ages. When researchers compared the strength gains of the elderly participants in this study to findings from other studies they’ve done of college-age men, they found changes in strength and muscle size were similar in both age groups.

“There have been a number of research projects that have come out over the years that suggest there is no age limitation to getting stronger from resistance training,” said Robert Staron, co-author of the study and an associate professor of anatomy at Ohio University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. “It’s become obvious that it’s important to maintain a certain amount of muscle mass as we age.”

This new study also suggests elderly men can handle heavy workloads over a long period of time. Participants — who were all in good health and monitored closely during testing and training — performed leg presses, half-squats and leg extensions twice a week to exercise the lower body. When the men began the study, they were able to leg-press about 375 pounds on average. After the 16-week period, they could take on about 600 pounds.

In addition to the increase in strength, researchers found weight lifting had a beneficial impact on the participants’ cardiovascular system. Tests on an exercise treadmill showed their bodies used oxygen more efficiently after weight training.

“The individuals run until they are completely exhausted, and it took longer for them to reach that point after resistance training,” Staron said.

Blood samples taken before and after weight training also showed favorable changes in participants’ overall cholesterol profiles, he said, including increases in HDL cholesterol levels and decreases in LDL cholesterol levels.

Losing muscle tone and strength is not uncommon for many senior citizens, Staron said, but this research suggests a lack of physical exercise can contribute to the problem.

“Certainly, inactivity does play a role in contributing to the decrease in muscle mass,” Staron said. “If we can maintain a certain level of strength through exercise, our quality of life should be better as we age.”

Before beginning a weight-lifting regimen, it’s a good idea to consult a physician, Staron advised, adding that it’s also important to learn proper weight-lifting techniques.

Collaborating on the project with Staron were Fredrick Hagerman, Robert Hikida and Thomas Murray of the College of Osteopathic Medicine; former graduate student Seamus Walsh; Roger Gilders of the College of Health and Human Services; Kumika Toma of the College of Arts and Sciences; and Kerry Ragg of the Student Health Service. Staron and his colleagues now have turned their attention to how certain weight-lifting routines impact young people.

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