The good news is YES – seniors can add muscle mass just like younger folks! Several studies have proven that even seniors who have never exercised can increase muscle mass.
A study published in August of 2019 compared rates of protein synthesis (the process by which muscle fiber size is increased) between Endurance-Trained Master Athletes to Untrained Seniors. The results showed there was NO DIFFERENCE in the muscle building response to resistance training between the two groups!
This was a big surprise to researchers who expected the Master Athletes would have an increased ability to build muscle. As per the lead researcher Dr. Leigh Breen:
“Our study clearly shows that it doesn’t matter if you haven’t been a regular exerciser throughout your life, you can still derive benefit from exercise whenever you start.”
The Benefits of Resistance Training for Older People
Sarcopenia, the loss of muscle with aging, is an inevitable part of growing older and without any intervention you can expect to lose about 15% of your muscle mass between the age of 30 and 80.
This loss of muscle mass is directly related to a person’s ability to maintain an independent lifestyle. The fact is without adequate muscle mass and the strength it brings people gradually lose their ability to perform activities of daily living including sitting and standing without assistance, walking up and down stairs, and preventing falls when balance is challenged.
So, maintaining muscle mass while we age is VERY important. Other benefits of resistance training in older folks include:
Improved Walking Ability – a study showed that after 12 weeks of resistance training seniors over age 65 were able to walk 38% further without resting!
Joint Pain Relief – resistance training increases the strength and resilience of muscle, tendons, and ligaments around joints which can take stress off the joints and help ease pain while increasing mobility.
Improved Blood Sugar Control – resistance training also helps to control blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes.
Improved Mental Health – resistance training also increases your production of key growth factors like Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). BDNF is often referred to as “miracle grow” for the brain because of its potent effects on increasing neuron growth. This helps explain why resistance training helps prevent dementia!