I have been a strong advocate for resistance training for all ages for quite some time now. General activity or even leisure exercise is simply not enough to stave off age-related illness. A recent study decided to examine and compare the health benefits between recreational activities and resistance training.
Lifelong strength training mitigates the age-related decline in efferent drive.
Recently we documented age-related attenuation of efferent drive to contracting skeletal muscle. It remains elusive if this indication of reduced muscle strength is present with lifelong strength training. For this purpose, we examined evoked potentials in the calf muscles of 11 (71±4years) strength trained master athletes (MA) contrasted to 10 (71±4years) sedentary (SO) and 11 (73±6years) recreationally active (AO) old subjects, as well as 9 (22±2years) young controls. As expected, MA had higher leg press maximal strength (MA: 185±32kg; AO: 128±15kg; SO: 106±11kg; young: 147±22kg, p<0.01) and rate of force development (MA: 5588±2488N∙s-1; AO: 2156±1100N∙s-1; SO: 2011±825N∙s-1; young: 3663±1140N∙s-1, p<0.05) than the other groups. MA also exhibited higher m.soleus normalized V-waves during MVC (Vsup/Msup: 0.28±0.15) than AO (0.13±0.06, p<0.01) and SO (0.11±0.05, p<0.01), yet lower than young (0.45±0.12, p<0.01). No differences were apparent between the old groups in H-reflex recorded at rest or during MVC (Hmax/Mmax; Hsup/Msup), and all were lower (p<0.01) than young. MA (34.4±2.1ms) had shorter (p<0.05) H-reflex latency compared to AO (36.4±3.7ms) and SO (37.3±3.2ms), but longer (p<0.01) than young (30.7±2.0ms). Using interpolated twitch analysis MA (89±7%) had similar plantar flexion voluntary activation as young (90±6%), and this was higher (p<0.05), or tended to be higher (p=0.06-0.09) than SO (83±10%) and AO (84±5%). These observations suggest that lifelong strength training has a protective effect against age-related attenuation of efferent drive. In contrast, no beneficial effect seems to derive from habitual recreational activity, indicating that strength training may be particularly beneficial for counteracting age-related loss of neuromuscular function.
When speaking to my clients, colleagues, friends, and family, I always discuss what I would consider to be the 4 pillars of health and fitness:
Balance and Coordination
Flexibility and Mobility
To be honest, most of us that are lucky enough to make it to our life expectancy, or beyond, tend to either decline in all 4 of these categories, or most of them. Sure, staying "active" through leisure activity and recreational exercise is great, and can improve the overall quality of life, it is simply not enough to maximize the overall quality of life as you age. As the above study points out, resistance training is superior to just staying active by maintaining neuromuscular function.
Not only that but in my opinion, it is not only possible, but expected to improve in all 4 of those main pillars using resistance training. Externally loading resistance on our bodies can not only improve strength, but can activate the neurons needed to maintain balance and coordination - sometimes referred to as the "stabilizing muscles."
Also, a properly structured and practiced resistance training program can also take your muscles and joints through their proper, full range of motion improving flexibility and mobility.
Finally, anyone who has lifted weights in a circuit-style complex or used weights as a form of metabolic conditioning will know that resistance training will most certainly improve cardiovascular health as well.
In short, resistance training is crucial for not only life longevity, but for quality of life as well.
Tyler Robbins B.Sc., CSCS, USAW L1, CrossFit L2
Director of Fitness
Head of CrossFit Orangeville