A team of researchers including our close colleagues Dr. James Fisher, Dr. James Steele (both of Southampton Solent University in the United Kingdom) and Dr. Wayne Westcott recently published one of the most important scientific papers in perhaps a decade on the topic of strength training and aging. The paper, titled, “A minimal dose approach to resistance training for the older adult; the prophylactic for aging” appeared just three weeks ago in the Journal of Experimental Gerontology. As the title suggests, the authors summarize the many health related benefits of resistance exercise (strength training) and state that despite the preponderance of evidence supporting the efficacy of resistance training in delaying the onset of biological aging, the vast majority of adults still do not engage in resistance training. Thus, the focus of their paper was to introduce a prescription along with the benefits of performing a minimal dose of resistance training. Fisher and colleagues summarize their objective stating, “However, this article is intended to determine the approximate minimal necessary volume and frequency to identify a ‘minimal dose’ of RT for the evidenced health benefits.”
Key take-home messages:
- “It might be that muscle function can be sustained with low frequency training whereas muscle mass requires RT (resistance training) of 2 days/week to be maintained.”
- “Perhaps the only caveat to such a minimal dose approach is the apparent need for participants to exercise to a high intensity of effort.”
- “Certainly, evidence has previously supported greater increases in upper and lower body strength in a high supervision (1:5; trainer to athlete ratio) compared to a low supervision (1:25) group (Gentil and Bottaro, 2010).”
- “Data revealed that when unsupervised, RT produced similar strength and functional task outcomes to those who discontinued training entirely.”
- “We have presented evidence that uncomplicated resistance exercise (e.g. 3-10 weight-stack machines performed for a single set) at a low to moderate dosage (< 60 min, 2 days / week) might be all that is necessary to attain the aforementioned positive health adaptations.”
- “We recommend that this dose is within the capacity of all or most members of the population, particularly older adults who might benefit more from the physiological and psychological benefits.
- “We also encourage medical professionals to use this information to prescribe resistance exercise like a drug whilst having an awareness of the health benefits and uncomplicated methods.”
The authors’ primary take home message: The health benefits of brief, infrequent, and uncomplicated resistance training are important for all adults and are likely of even greater importance in older adults. Ironically and unfortunately, many older adults choose to discontinue strength training and miss out on these anti-aging benefits.