Older women can have stronger muscles but risk falling


Washington : Elderly women can regain muscle strength as much as any young women, according to a new study.

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The research compared strength gains of inactive elderly women and inactive young women after both groups participated in an eight-week training regime.

Yet while the two groups increased similar percentages of strength, the older group was far less effective in increasing power, which is more closely related to preventing falls.

“Power is more important than strength for recovery from loss of balance or walking ability,” said Dain LaRoche, assistant professor of exercise science at University of New Hampshire (UNH) and co-author of the study.

Preventing falls, which occur in 40 percent of people over 65 and are the top reason for injury-related emergency room visits, is the driving force behind LaRoche’s research agenda.

LaRoche compared the initial strength of 25 young (18-33 years) and 24 old (65-84 years) inactive women, then had both groups participate in resistance training on a machine that targeted knee extensor muscles, which are critical for walking, stair-climbing, or rising from a chair. “They’re what let you live on your own,” he said.

After eight weeks of training, the older group not only increased their strength by the same percentage as the younger group, they achieved strength similar to a control group of young inactive women, said a UNH press release.

But the older group’s ability to increase power – force over time – was significantly less than the younger group’s; the elderly women saw only a 10 percent increase in power versus the younger women’s 50 percent increase.

Acknowledging that the type or frequency (six sets, three times per week) of his training protocol may have affected the older group’s ability to make gains in power, LaRoche is continuing to research older women’s capacity to develop muscle power.

As baby boomers age, doubling the over-65 population by 2030, research that supports fall prevention and independent living is a growth area. “I tell my students, ‘there’s room for you in this field’,” said LaRoche.

The results were published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.