Many health and fitness professionals design exercise programs for older women that progress at a slower rate than exercise programs for their younger clients. They believe that the possibility of injury is higher in older clients during exercise. This thinking has solidified the assumption that as you get older, you cannot possibly keep up with younger people.
Thankfully, a new study published in this month’s Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research(1) has been turned this assumption upside down. Researchers at the University of Sao Paulo School of Medicine in Brazil conducted a study “to examine the possible influences of age on exercise intensity progression in healthy women.”
The study determined that healthy women, without previous training, can exercise safely and improve the strength of their muscles and heart at any age.
In other words, age is not a barrier to a progressive exercise program for women.
Fit Past Fifty
At times, I also train young athletes (often the sons and daughters of my “50 plus women”). I frequently guide both groups through similar programs and set progress targets that are very much alike for both groups. Like the authors of the study, I have found that both groups can progress at a similar rate of improvement.
I must note that I often get clients who are older, de-conditioned and have a medical issue that requires attention. As a Physiotherapist, my medical background allows me to assess their unique situation (such as diabetes or recovery from an injury, etc) and address their specific health concerns. As a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, I am able to design an exercise program that allows them to attain their fitness goals.
I believe that older clients can safely achieve their fitness and health goals while taking into account their unique medical profile.
Two groups of women underwent 13 weeks of exercise training. They both followed the same exercise program and results documented and recorded during the study period. The two study groups were:
- Seventeen young women (29.1 years old, plus or minus 5.7 years)
- Sixteen older women (64.5 years old, plus or minus 4.5 years old)
The 13 week exercise program (for both groups) consisted of :
- Stationary cycling (known as cycle ergometry)
- Whole body resistance training. Specific exercises included bench press, leg press, seated row, knee curl, shoulder press, calf raise, triceps push-down, bicep curls, and abdominal exercises.
- Stretching exercises
The exercise program for women was designed to develop aerobic capacity, muscle mass and strength, and flexibility and was performed twice a week during the 13 week study period on all participants. The exercise intensity of the aerobic and resistance training was increased whenever an individual displayed improved performance.
A comparison of the progressions across all of the individual exercises between the two groups was not significantly different – meaning that the performance improvement of the older group was not that different than that of the younger group.
I believe that the implications of this study are very significant.
- As a society, our population is aging and inactivity can lead to significant health problems and have a detrimental affect on an individual’s independence as they get older. I believe many “older” people do not exercise because they think “If I am not going to make significant progress in an exercise program, why bother?” This study challenges this thinking. If we can get more of us onto a safe exercise program, the payoff to society (in terms of reduced long term health care costs) will be significant.
- As an individual, you now know that when you exercise properly, you can progress as well as your younger friends. You can take this new found learning into the New Year and start an exercise program. You may be surprised by your progress!
- Ciolac, EG et al. (2010) Age Does Not Affect Exercise Intensity Progression Among Women. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research Vol 24, Number 11: 3023-3031.