After the age of 50, the average person will lose 3-5% of their muscle mass each year unless they pursue a regular exercise program. This loss of muscle mass will result in weakness, decreased endurance, impaired walking and increased difficulties in doing normal activities of daily living. It can also contribute to a decrease in balance, which can result in fractures and even death. Conversely, regular exercise can maintain and even increase muscle strength.
A study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, placed 100 frail nursing home residents aged 72-98 years of age into 4 separate groups for 10 weeks. In Group 1, the subjects participated in regular resistance strength training using a leg press. Group 2 subjects received multinutrient supplements. Group 3 subjects did both the strengthening training and took the nutritional supplements. Group 4 acted as the control group and had neither strengthening nor supplements. The results were:
- Muscle strength increased 113% in the strengthening group.
- The pace of walking increased 12% in the exercisers but decreased by 1% in the non-exercisers.
- Stair climbing power increased by 28% in the exercisers.
- The overall level of physical activity increased in the exercisers.
- The nutritional supplement had no effect on outcomes.
High intensity strength training is a feasible and effective means of counteracting muscle weaknes and physical fraility in very elderly people. In contrast, multinutrient supplementation without exercise does not reduce muscle weakness or physical fraility. This research clearly demonstrates that providing strength training opportunities for the very frail would be a much more effective use of resources than nutritional supplementation to prevent frailty.
Strength training exercises are available to residents in all three of our facilities. In addition, at Waters Edge Lodge there is a leg press class that basically does the same exercise done in the research study described above. The class is held 10:30-11:30 Tuesday and Thursday mornings and 4:00-5:00 Monday-Wednesday and Friday afternoons. It is a drop-in class and utilizes our universal weight equipment in the exercise room. Almost any resident is capable of doing this exercise. Although we cannot keep ourselves from growing older, to a certain extent we are masters of our own fate as to how well we age. You can choose to sit in a chair and become increasingly inactive and weak or you can choose to get out of that chair and start exercising. It is never too late to start. You can choose to lose muscle mass or you can choose to increase your strength and functional abilities. The choice is yours….take your pick!