The benefits unleashed from exercise are manifold, particularly in older age, when frailty poses potentially life-threatening health risks. One health concern associated with old age is muscle weakness, which can leave people prone to falls, fractures and becoming socially isolated. These factors can have a potentially fatal impact on your body and mind so it is important to maintain muscle strength as you get older.
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Embarking on a weight lifting programme for the first time in later life may seem daunting, but new research conducted by experts at Liverpool Hope University reported marked improvements in muscle strength – up to 60 per cent gains – after a short four month programme of weight-based exercise in older adults.
The study analysed 100 adults, aged 60 and above, who were all completely new to weight training.
They attended a gym three times a week for a 16 week period for resistance exercise and ‘functional exercise’ – including lunges, squats and a mini obstacle course – sessions.
According to Kate Mooney, a PhD researcher and study lead, participants who took part in the exercise programme showed some remarkable improvements in their muscular strength – after just 16 weeks of training.
They also had an increase in handgrip strength – an important indicator of overall muscle strength, by nine per cent, said Mooney.
What’s more, significant strength increases were observed for exercises carried out in the gym – leg press by 45 per cent, Chest press by 60 per cent and bicep curl by 33 per cent, she said.
Commenting on the health benefits weight lifting brings to older people, Mooney said: “Muscle weakness is a common cause of falls and fractures in the elderly and can extend hospitalisation and recovery times for older patients. It is also associated with increased risk of mortality in older adults.
“But resistance exercise – designed to increase muscle strength as well as functional ability and physical performance – could have a significant impact on prevention of age-related diseases.”
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The communal aspect of working out together also fostered an enjoyable social environment, which motivated the participants to work harder, adds Mooney.
In fact, numerous studies have that people with strong social connections may live longer and healthier lives.
One notable study suggested that strong ties to family and friends, along with frequent physical activity, may contribute to their longevity.
A recent met analysis of 148 studies also found that people who are isolated face a 50 percent greater risk of premature death than those who have stronger social connections.
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According to Lisa Berkman, director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, one potential explanation is that the stress of isolation can weaken people’s immune systems, making them more susceptible to infectious diseases.
She also noted that people with strong social connections tend to have better health behaviours, like eating healthy foods and being physically active.
Eating a healthy diet is undeniably important in extending your lifespan, not least because it has been shown to preserve your heart and brain health.
One key dietary tip is to shun saturated fats, which tend to cause a build-up of LDL cholesterol in your blood.
LDL cholesterol is a waxy substance found in blood that sticks to your artery walls and can cut off the blood supply to your heart and brain.
Cutting off the supply of blood to your heart and brain can starve these vital organs of oxygen, hiking your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Foods high in saturated fat include:
- Meat pies
- Sausages and fatty cuts of meat
- Ghee – a type of butter often used in Indian cooking
- Hard cheese
- Cakes and biscuits
- Foods that contain coconut or palm oil
To keep the risks at bay, a balanced diet should still include unsaturated fats, such as oily fish, which have been shown to increase levels of good cholesterol and help reduce any blockage in your arteries, advises the NHS.
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