Study: Strength Training Helps Seniors with Weight Management

When you reach your senior years, there’s a good chance you’re not quite as active as you once were. Maybe you’re retired, the kids are grown and gone, or you live in a retirement community where you don’t have to mow the lawn.

There’s nothing wrong with slowing down a little. It’s a natural part of the aging process. But if you’re not as active as you used to be, you have to watch out for weight gain.

What’s the best way to manage your weight? That’s what researchers wanted to find out when they set up an 18-month study to follow 249 seniors. Once group followed a healthy diet. Once group at the same diet and walked briskly four days a week. A third group ate the same food, but lifted weights four days a week.

A Senior-Friendly diet, combined with regular exercise, is the best recipe for weight management. So it wasn’t a big surprise that the diet-only group didn’t fare as well as the other two groups.

But here’s what’s interesting. The seniors who ate healthy and lifted weights lost more weight and maintained more muscle mass, than the walking group.

How much weight? The strength training group lost 17 pounds in 18 months, while the walking group lost 15 pounds on average. The group that lifted weights only lost 1.7 pounds of lean muscle mass, while the walking group lost 3.5 pounds of lean muscle. And that’s an important finding says lead researcher Dr. Kristen Beavers.

"The thought is if you lose too much lean mass, that this will exacerbate risk of disability in older adults," says Beavers. "Our findings show if your treatment goal is to maximize fat loss and minimize lean mass loss, then the resistance training is probably the way to go."

Do you need to take up power-lifting or bodybuilding to tap into the benefits of strength training for seniors? No. Even bodyweight exercises like squats, wall push-ups, and planks, are resistance exercises that engage muscles to build strength and endurance and elevate metabolism to burn fat and calories.

If you’re not sure how to perform strength training exercises, as a personal trainer. Or check with your community center. Many places offer bodyweight training and resistance exercise classes designed for seniors.