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The Benefits of Resistance Training for Older Adults

By Elliot Fisher MS, ATC, CSCS, PES

Physical activity is important for positive health outcomes. With age, it becomes more difficult to maintain good health. Resistance training is a specific modality of exercise/physical activity that has many benefits that can assist in health maintenance over time.(1) These health benefits are very specific to many of the health concerns that arise with aging.(2) This may include sarcopenia, osteoporosis, diabetes, dyslipidemia, and hypertension. Resistance training promotes positive health outcomes, specifically targeting older adults.

One study conducted by Castaneda et al. examined the effect resistance training has on glycemic control in older adults with type 2 diabetes.(3) In this study 62 diabetic older adults underwent a sixteen-week progressive resistive training (PRT) program. The subjects performed three workouts per week; about 45 minutes per workout. Exercises included machine exercises such as the chest press, row, knee extension, and knee flexion. This group was assessed in comparison to a control group who received phone calls every other week to monitor their diabetes and continue traditional treatment. At the end of the intervention, the PRT group had significant changes in glycemic control (a decrease in hemoglobin A1c), increased muscle glycogen stores, and decreased medication prescription.

Another study titled Resistance exercise and bone turnover in elderly men and womenexamined the effects of resistance training on bone mineral density over time.(4) The two conditions for this experiment were a high intensity group and low intensity group. The high intensity group exercised at 80% of their 1 repetition maximum (1RM) for eight repetitions, three times per week. The low intensity group trained at 50% of their 1RM for 13 repetitions, three times per week. This was done for 12 different exercises, over a period of 24 weeks. Results from this study showed a strength increase of 17.2% for the low intensity group and 17.8% for the high intensity group. Additionally, the femoral neck significantly increased bone mineral density by 1.96% in the high intensity group. Bone mineral density was assessed using dual energy x-ray absorptiometry.

Hypertension is a common issue older adults.(5) There is some evidence that resistance training may decrease resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure. A study done by Taaffe et al. examined the effects of resistance training on central blood pressure in older adults. In this experiment, 17 subjects followed a PRT program for 20 weeks. There were two groups in this study. One group exercised twice per week for one set at an eight-repetition maximum for seven exercises, and the other group performed three sets at an eight-repetition maximum for seven exercises. Results were combined. Systolic blood pressure decreased by 6 mm Hg, and diastolic by 3 mm Hg. In conclusion, resistance training may help decrease blood pressure in older adults.

Aerobic exercise is associated with healthy blood cholesterol levels. An experiment in 2002 by Fahlman et al. evaluated aerobic exercise versus resistance training versus control, and the effects on cholesterol.(6) In this study 45 healthy elderly women were randomly assigned to one of the three conditions for 10 weeks. The aerobic exercise group walked three days per week at 70% heart rate reserve for 20 minutes, increasing by five minutes each session until reaching 50 minutes. The resistance training group consisted of eight exercises performed at one to three sets of eight repetitions at an eight-repetition maximum. Control group did not modify current activity levels. Both groups experienced increases in HDL cholesterol and decreased triglycerides after the intervention. This research may indicate the resistance training is as effective as aerobic exercise for managing cholesterol levels in elderly women.

The most popular adaptation to resistance training includes strength and skeletal muscle hypertrophy development. Binder et al. evaluated the effects of resistance training on the body composition in older adults.(7) In this study, 91 sedentary men and women were enrolled in a nine-month exercise intervention. Subjects were randomized to either an exercise group focused on supervised PRT or a control group of low intensity home exercises. The exercise group began the program at one to two sets of six to eight repetitions at about 65% of their 1RM, progressing to three sets of eight to twelve repetitions at 85-100% of their initial 1RM. There were three sessions per week, about 60-90 minutes per session. The control group performed light stretching. After the intervention, the exercise group had a significant increase in knee extension force production. Additionally, there was a significant increase in fat free mass in the exercise group. This study gives evidence that resistance exercise can increase strength and hypertrophy in older adults.

In conclusion, resistance training offers many health benefits for an aging population. Health benefits include: increased insulin sensitivity, increased bone mineral density, decreased blood pressure, better cholesterol values, and increased muscle mass.


  1. Westcott, W. L. (2012). Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Current sports medicine reports, 11(4), 209-216.

  2. Hunter, G. R., McCarthy, J. P., & Bamman, M. M. (2004). Effects of resistance training on older adults. Sports medicine, 34(5), 329-348.

  3. Castaneda, C., Layne, J. E., Munoz-Orians, L., Gordon, P. L., Walsmith, J., Foldvari, M., … & Nelson, M. E. (2002). A randomized controlled trial of resistance exercise training to improve glycemic control in older adults with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes care, 25(12), 2335-2341.

  4. Vincent, K. R., & Braith, R. W. (2002). Resistance exercise and bone turnover in elderly men and women. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 34(1), 17-23.

  5. Taaffe, D. R., Galvao, D. A., Sharman, J. E., & Coombes, J. S. (2007). Reduced central blood pressure in older adults following progressive resistance training. Journal of human hypertension, 21(1), 96-96.

  6. Fahlman, M. M., Boardley, D., Lambert, C. P., & Flynn, M. G. (2002). Effects of endurance training and resistance training on plasma lipoprotein profiles in elderly women. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 57(2), B54-B60.

  7. Binder, E. F., Yarasheski, K. E., Steger-May, K., Sinacore, D. R., Brown, M., Schechtman, K. B., & Holloszy, J. O. (2005). Effects of progressive resistance training on body composition in frail older adults: results of a randomized, controlled trial. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 60(11), 1425-1431.

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