Background: The combination of low-load resistance training with blood flow restriction (BFR) has recently been shown to promote muscular adaptations in various populations. To date, however, evidence is sparse on how this training regimen influences muscle mass and strength in older adults.
Purpose: The purpose of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to quantitatively identify the effects of low-load BFR (LL-BFR) training on muscle mass and strength in older individuals in comparison with conventional resistance training programmes. Additionally, the effectiveness of walking with and without BFR was assessed.
Methods: A PRISMA-compliant systematic review and meta-analysis was conducted. The systematic literature research was performed in the following electronic databases from inception to 1 June 2018: PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus, CINAHL, SPORTDiscus and CENTRAL. Subsequently, a random-effects meta-analysis with inverse variance weighting was conducted.
Results: A total of 2658 articles were screened, and 11 studies with a total population of N = 238 were included in the meta-analysis. Our results revealed that during both low-load training and walking, the addition of BFR elicits significantly greater improvements in muscular strength with pooled effect sizes (ES) of 2.16 (95% CI 1.61 to 2.70) and 3.09 (95% CI 2.04 to 4.14), respectively. Muscle mass was also increased when comparing walking with and without BFR [ES 1.82 (95% CI 1.32 to 2.32)]. In comparison with high-load training, LL-BFR promotes similar muscle hypertrophy [ES 0.21 (95% CI - 0.14 to 0.56)] but lower strength gains [ES - 0.42 (95% CI - 0.70 to - 0.14)].
Conclusion: This systematic review and meta-analysis reveals that LL-BFR and walking with BFR is an effective interventional approach to stimulate muscle hypertrophy and strength gains in older populations. As BFR literature is still scarce with regard to potential moderator variables (e.g. sex, cuff pressure or training volume/frequency), further research is needed for strengthening the evidence for an effective application of LL-BFR training in older people.