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Resistance Training More than Once a Week Unnecessary
 for Physical and Mental Well-Being Over 65

More Resistance Training Beneficial for Fat Reduction

Success in Training Builds Motivation to Keep Training

Concerned that seniors all over the western world are suffering from declines in resistance training (only 17% compliance, down from a peak of 30%) researchers from the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland and colleagues from Sweden and Australia investigated the effects of training frequency on body composition and metabolic markers in healthy seniors (age range 65-75). They hypothesized that greater training frequency would produce greater changes in body composition and more favorable changes in health markers.

They were in for some remarkable surprises. Greater training frequency did increase fat loss, but little else. On the other hand, low training frequency produced optimum results for those who needed it most.

The Study

Johanna K. Ihalainen, Neuromuscular Research Center, University of Jyvaskyla, and colleagues randomly assigned 92 healthy seniors to one of four groups: doing strength training one, two, or three times a week, and a non-training control group. They trained the whole body in each session using 7-9 exercises. Training sessions were supervised to make sure that exercises were done correctly and that participants always tried to increase training loads. The intervention continued for 9 months (including a three month introduction to resistance training).

Body composition, muscle strength, blood pressure, blood markers, and psychological well-being were measured before and after the resistance training intervention.

The researchers summed up their results:

In conclusion, the present study suggests that a higher number of RT sessions per week could be of benefit in the management of body composition and lipid profile. Interestingly, and importantly, the study observed that those individuals with a higher baseline systolic blood pressure, triglyceride and hs-CRP concentrations derived greatest benefit from the RT intervention, regardless of how many times-a-week they trained. Finally, the present study found no evidence that higher training frequency would induce greater benefit regarding inflammation markers or glycemic profile in healthy older adults. From a practical point of view, our findings suggest that suitable strength training interventions should be especially targeted to people with poorer body composition and metabolic profile.

“We found that individuals who were close to having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood glucose, or high levels of inflammation improved the most after our nine-month training program,” senior researcher Dr. Simon Walker said in a University of Jyvaskyla press release. “Training two or three times per week didn’t provide greater benefit in these individuals.”

Training more often did, however, significantly improve body composition by increasing fat loss. "No within-group changes were observed in lean mass in any group during the present study," the researchers wrote. (Emphasis ours) In other words, increases in strength and muscle mass came from training once a week.

“But for other measures that are important for older people, such as the ability to perform activities of daily living, once per week seemed sufficient,” Walker explained. “Muscle strength that is needed for carrying shopping bags, walking up and down the stairs and sitting down on a toilet can be improved with strength training.”

Overall well-being, tested through psychological measures, also improved over the nine-month training period. Again, there were no real differences whether individuals trained only once a week or two to three times per week.

The researchers emphasized that it was very important that people improved their psychological well-being and motivation for exercise during the study period as it was those people who continued training regularly after the study ended.

“We need to remember that these individuals trained hard, and safely, when they were with us,” Walker observed. “We supervised every training session closely, making sure that they used correct technique and also ensured that they always tried to improve their training loads compared with previous training sessions.”

You can read the entire study online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6367240/

My Take on Doing More

As suggested above, success at this level is likely to kindle motivation to do more. That’s a good thing, if you don't overdo. It’s best to add new activities a little at a time, building on your success one step at a time.

Rather than add another day of resistance training, you can add activities on your "off" days that complement your strength workouts. We have several new studies that show the benefits of this kind of exercise.

McMaster University Professor Martin Gibala—the father of interval training for the masses—has a new study showing the benefits of what he calls “exercise snacks.”

In a January 16, 2019, study in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism he and his team showed how extremely short bursts of exercise can build fitness and power.

Sedentary young adults were randomly assigned to climb three flights of stairs (60 steps) three times a day, three days a week, for six weeks, or a non-training control group. The stair climber’s aerobic fitness improved by 5 percent and showed 12 percent more power during a cycle test.

“We know that sprint interval training works, but we were a bit surprised to see that the stair snacking approach was also effective,” said study co-author Jonathan Little, assistant professor at UBC Okanagan. “Vigorously climbing a few flights of stairs on your coffee or bathroom break during the day seems to boost fitness in people who are otherwise sedentary.”

Older trainers who are not be comfortable charging up stairs can begin by walking up stairs more slowly—and speed up little by little. As in resistance training, they can try to go faster as they feel able, building confidence day by day. (My law professor friend Dan Keating dashes up the three flight stairs to his office several times every work day--and recently raced his favorite professor from the law school he attended up those stairs. He claims it was a tie.)

You can also begin by walking more. A 13-year study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine tracked more than 139,000 adults and found that those who did just 2 hours of walking a week were 26 percent less likely die early than sedentary people. Again, the key is to challenge yourself to walk faster or uphill or more as you feel able.

Another option is doing push-ups and pull-ups once a week. A study published February 15, 2019, in JAMA Network Open found that being able to do more than 40 push-ups significantly reduced cardiovascular disease risk compared to those able to do fewer than 10 push-ups. Again, do what you can and work toward doing more little by little.

Resistance bands are another all-purpose option allowing you to challenge every part of your body conveniently and progressively.

The options are many. The key is to choose ways to challenge yourself that appeal to you. Don’t bite off more than you are willing to chew. That usually means things you enjoy and do well. When something stops working change to something else that lights your fire.

Above all else, keep training and thinking.


My back was developed by training hard and infrequently. I also climbed to the top tier of indoor rowing in my age group

by training far less frequently than my competition. Success with less brings lifetime fitness.

April 1, 2019

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