WINSTON-SALEM, N. C. — Seniors looking to stay fit, but are unsure of the proper regimen for their age group should consider pumping iron. A new study finds that lifting weights is a better option for older adults who want to lose weight, but preserve muscle mass as they age.
Researchers at Wake Forest University examined 249 people in their 60s over the course of 18 months, all of whom were either overweight or obese, to try to see what kept them in optimal physical shape.
Some participants were asked to partake in a fitness program that combined resistance training with caloric restriction, while the remaining were asked to either try a cardio/walking and weight loss regimen or a weight loss program alone.
“Surprisingly, we found that cardio workouts may actually cause older adults with obesity to lose more lean mass than dieting alone,” says lead researcher Kristen Beavers in a Wake Forest news release.
Since the loss of muscle mass can create a range of physical problems for older adults, including disability, this finding on its own could help prevent poor health in one’s twilight years.
Still, cardio plus dieting (16 pounds of weight loss) was more effective than just dieting (10 pounds) for looking thinner, although dieting plus a weight training regimen (17 pounds) was most effective.
Perhaps more importantly, muscle mass loss was much more significant among those who only dieted and did cardio (four pounds) than it was among those who either dieted or dieted and lifted weights (two pounds).
The researchers identified fat loss as being associated with increased walking speed, while muscle loss was associated with reduced knee strength.
Since seniors typically don’t regain muscle once it’s been lost, this is “all the more reason for older adults to try and preserve muscle mass during weight loss,” Beavers argues.
Many older adults choose walking as their fitness routine of choice, she notes, which isn’t necessarily bad in itself, but any such regimen should be supplemented with pumping iron.
The researchers’ findings were published in this month’s edition of the journal Obesity.