Older Adults and Elderly
There is increasing recognition that the term “elderly” is an inadequate generalization that obscures the variability of a broad age group. Physiologic aging does not occur uniformly across the population. Therefore, it is not satisfactory to define “elderly” by any specific chronologic age or set of ages. Individuals of the same chronologic age can differ dramatically in their physiologic age and response to an exercise stimulus. In addition, it is difficult to distinguish the effects of aging per se on physiologic function from that resulting from deconditioning and/or disease. Although aging is inevitable, both the rate and magnitude of decline in physiologic function may be amenable to, and even reversible with, exercise/activity intervention. Importantly, the possibility that an active or latent disease process may be present in the older adult or elderly individual always should be considered.
Older Adults/Elderly and Exercise
Aerobic training improves insulin sensitivity and glucose homeostasis in the elderly (2). Insulin action and skeletal muscle GLUT 4 concentrations improved in elderly individuals who used a cycle ergometer for 60 minutes on 7 consecutive days (2). These changes may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes or help to better control blood glucose levels.
Combining strength and endurance training is also beneficial for the elderly individual. One study showed that after 6 months of combined resistance and endurance training, older healthy individuals increased their aerobic fitness, and their upper and lower body strength (3). The ability to carry out normal daily tasks such as carrying groceries, transferring laundry, vacuuming, making a bed, climbing stairs, and floor sweeping improved and translated to carrying 14% more weight and moving 10% faster. The amount of improvement was dependent on the initial conditioning level, with the least fit demonstrating the most improvement (3).
Elderly individuals, including the oldest old (older than 85 years of age) and very frail elderly, demonstrate physiological adaptations to strength training (6, 7, 8, 15). How much adaptation occurs depends on the frequency, volume, mode, type of training, and initial training state (5). Resistance training programs lasting from 8 weeks to 1 year can increase muscle strength and mass in the elderly, regardless of age and sex.
Increases in strength in the elderly are the result of both muscle hypertrophy and neuromuscular adaptation (15). However, several studies have reported large increases in skeletal muscle strength in the elderly that are proportionally greater than increases in cross-sectional area (6, 7). In addition to strength gains, regular resistance training improves gait, balance, and overall functional capacity (6, 8). Strength training also increases bone mineral density and content (14), increases metabolic rate (1), assists with the maintenance of body weight by decreasing fat mass and increasing lean mass, and improves insulin action and plasma levels (12). The gains observed during resistance training can be expected to persist for several weeks after training is ceased (9).
Several studies have demonstrated that regular range of motion (ROM) training improves the flexibility of the spine, hips, ankles, knees, and shoulders in older individuals (10, 11, 13) whereas few have shown no effect (4). Improvements in flexibility can be expected to increase the effective range of strength gains.
You may have a chronic disease, learn about how chronic diseases are eligible to receive a Medicare Rebate when seeing an Accredited Exercise Physiologist:
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Learn how an Accredited Exercise Physiologist can help you to begin and maintain exercise in your life, so you can enjoy the health benefits of Exercise for Older Adults and Elderly:
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