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How Resistance Training Can Reverse the Aging Process

Mar 1, 2010

“How Resistance Training Can Reverse the Aging Process”


  • What causes muscle to age?
  • Study on gene expression.
  • Training tips for mature adults.
  • Whys aren’t women lifting weights?
  • Does Yoga and Pilates count?
  • Resistance training for beginners.

Began with two jokes from Miss Piggy:

“One of life’s mysteries is how a two-pound box of candy can make a woman gain 5 lbs.”

And “Eat what you want, exercise you prerogative, and find a good plastic surgeon who gives frequent-flyer miles.

Human aging is associated with a loss of muscle mass, a deficit in muscle strength and impairment in performing some activities of daily livings. Typically these changes start to occur at about age 40 and progressively worsen with aging.

Sarcopenia can be defined as natural, age related loss of muscle mass, strength and muscle function. 7% of adults over 70 years old and 20% over 80 are affected by very debilitating sarcopenia. Causes are multifactorial, with theories and research suggesting it is related to oxidative stress, cell death, inflammation and inactivity. Resistance training with older populations as been shown to reduce markers of oxidative stress and increase antioxidant enzyme activity.

Melov and colleagues (2007) investigated whether resistance training actually affects some of the gene expression associated with muscle aging; thus reversing the aging process. In the study 25 subjects with a mean age of 68 years old were compared with a group of 26 subjects whose mean age was24. All subjects performed supervised resistance exercise on two non-consecutive days of the week for 26 weeks: there were 12 different that began with a single set and progressed up to 3 sets.

There was muscle biopsy testing pre- and post-. 596 differentially expressed genes. After 26 weeks 179 of the 596 genes showed a reversal of their gene expression. This means quite literally that the resistance training was not only slowing but also reversing the aging process at the gene level. Referring to muscle strength, the older population’s peak isometric strength before the study was 59% lower than the 24 year old group, and after 26 weeks only 38% less that of the younger test subjects. For years personal trainers have touted functional movement and health benefits of resistance training now have evidence on a molecular level that progressive resistance training can reverse aspects of aging at the gene level.

The top ten training tips for mature clients are as follows:

  1. Learn correct lifting mechanics.
  2. Educate yourself/learn concept of progressive overload.
  3. Pain free range of motion with controlled joint movements with all exercises.
  4. Ensure breathing patterns remain normal.
  5. Begin with minimal training loads (letting joint/connective tissue to adjust to training loads).
  6. Avoid excessive resistance training loads especially with periods of pain or inflammation i.e. Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis.
  7. Watch eccentric training = increased delay of muscle soreness (DOMS).
  8. Restart at 50% or less of previous training loads after a break in training.
  9. Improve balance and muscle coordination by performing several exercises in standing with free weights, medicine ball and BOSU.
  10. Sessions under 60 minutes are best secondary to fatigue and exercise adherence.

Why aren’t more woman lifting weights? “I know lifting weights is good for me, but I just can’t make myself do it on a consistent basis” says Janelle a 33 year old venture capitalist in a recent Fitness Magazine article. Of 12.7 million women who belonged to a commercial health club in 2006, only about ½ lifted with machines and 13 with free weights. Again, weight training, even just 2x/week is an essential part of a total wellness program. Weight training can 1) Change your body 2) Boost your mood 3) Keep you looking younger. Other benefits include: improving muscle tone, bone density, athletic performance and strength (about 30 to 50% more after 3 to 6 months of training).

Resistance training is essential for weight loss or preventing weight gain. Since muscle burns an estimated 3x more calories than fat, adding two to four pounds of muscle can translate in an extra 100 calories burned each day. A high intensity strength routine has been shown to bump metabolism by 20% for several hours post workout. The “Bulk” controversy debunked: as it is nearly impossible for women to build bulky muscle like men. Women simply don’t have the hormonal make up to get as muscular as men secondary to very small amounts of naturally occurring testosterone.

Does yoga or Pilates count as resistance training? Devotees of these disciplines say that they get all the lean muscle they need form their chosen teachings, but experts disagree “you will build some muscle with yoga poses that have you supporting your body weight against gravity, but eventually you’ll reach a plateau and will need to add weights or some other form of resistance. Reformer training offers progressive resistance, but they at least partially support your body weight, so you won’t get the same weight-bearing benefits of many standing strength exercises.

Training for beginners should incorporate at least 2 days a week of 8 to 12 total exercises for a whole body workout. For 1 to 2 weeks one set of 12 to 15 repetitions should be sufficient. After 2 weeks a 2nd set can be added for increasing volume and total work.


Schedule a complimentary fit evaluation so we can get to know you and your goals and build you a customized training program to reach them.