Research article| Volume 25, ISSUE 3, SUPPLEMENT 2, 141-149, October 2003

The benefits of strength training for older adults

  • Rebecca Seguin
    Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition, The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

    Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
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  • Miriam E Nelson
    Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Miriam E. Nelson, PhD, Director, Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition, The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, 150 Harrison Avenue, Room 249, Boston MA 02111, USA.
    Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition, The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

    Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
    Search for articles by this author



      Aging is associated with a number of physiologic and functional declines that can contribute to increased disability, frailty, and falls. Contributing factors are the loss of muscle mass and strength as age increases, a phenomenon called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia can result or be exacerbated by certain chronic conditions, and can also increase the burden of chronic disease. Current research has demonstrated that strength-training exercises have the ability to combat weakness and frailty and their debilitating consequences. Done regularly (e.g., 2 to 3 days per week), these exercises build muscle strength and muscle mass and preserve bone density, independence, and vitality with age. In addition, strength training also has the ability to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and the signs and symptoms of numerous chronic diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, and type 2 diabetes, while also improving sleep and reducing depression. This paper reviews the current research on strength training and older adults, evaluating exercise protocols in a variety of populations. It is clear that a variety of strength-training prescriptions from highly controlled laboratory-based to minimally supervised home-based programs have the ability to elicit meaningful health benefits in older adults. The key challenges as this field of exercise science moves forward are to best identify the most appropriate strength-training recommendations for older adults and to greatly increase the access to safe and effective programs in a variety of settings.
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