Resistance Training: How It Can Improve Physical Function in Older Women
Typical changes in the human body occur with aging, specifically changes to muscle capacity. Muscle capacity is the umbrella term under which we differentiate between muscle strength and muscle power; but before we discuss their deterioration with age, let’s first define these terms.
MUSCLE CAPACITY AND DETERIORATION
Muscle strength is the amount of force that a muscle can exert. In a Pilates class, for example, this would look like a slow and controlled Plank, using the body as weight. Similarly, muscle strength is also built with gym weights that act as a force to exert the appropriate muscles. Muscle power, on the other hand, is the amount of force generated as fast as possible. This may look like trail running in the woods on uneven, rugged terrain; or it may look like swinging a baseball bat. While muscle power focuses more on speed, it also needs strength to push through. This is why these two terms are often linked in definitions.
As women age, their muscle capacity deteriorates. This is due to the aging changes in their joints, specifically after menopause, when their bones lose calcium and other minerals. Because the fluid in their joints decreases, women often feel a stiffness in movement, particularly exercise. When the joints are immobile, muscles become less toned and less able to contract, which leads to a decline in physical activities and even some routine movement.
Resistance training is an exercise with the goal of maintaining muscle strength, power, and flexibility. Even though exercise will not stop the effects of aging, it will keep the joints mobile and strong, so that muscles can continue to support physical function. Studies have proven that repeated resistance training will help increase muscle strength by working against a weight or a force. Some examples of resistance training to implement in your routine may be:
- Weight machines at the gym or in fitness classes, such as Pilates, Circuit Training, or Power Yoga
- Rounded sets with medicine balls or sand bags
- Resistance bands or using your own body weight, such as in squats, push-ups, or crunches
Incorporating resistance training in any physical regimen improves muscle tone, strength, and flexibility. It is an imperative technique for older women who are losing muscle capacity, due to aging and loss of minerals post-menopause. Your physical therapist can recommend specific exercises for your needs and abilities.
For further reading, please check out the following links:
- McComsey, Tim, “What is the difference between power and strength?” August 17, 2014 https://humanfitproject.com/fitness-workouts/longevity/whats-the-difference-between-power-and-strength/
- “Aging changes in the bones — muscles — joints,” April 1, 2019 https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/004015.htm
- “Resistance training — health benefits” https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/resistance-training-health-benefits
- Anne O. Brady, Chad R. Straight, “Muscle capacity and physical function in older women: What are the impacts of resistance training?” September 2014 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095254614000416