Objective: To determine the effects of 12 weeks of progressive resistance strength training on the isometric strength, explosive power, and selected functional abilities of healthy women aged 75 and over.
Design: Subjects were matched for age and habitual physical activity and then randomly assigned into either a control or an exercise group.
Setting: The Muscle Function Laboratory, Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, London.
Participants: Fifty-two healthy women were recruited through local and national newspapers. Five dropped out before and seven (4 exercisers and 3 controls) during the study. Pre- and posttraining measurements were obtained from 20 exercisers (median age 79.5, range 76 to 93 years) and 20 controls (median age 79.5, range 75 to 90 years).
Interventions: Training comprised one supervised session (1 hour) at the Medical School and two unsupervised home sessions (supported by an exercise tape and booklet) per week for 12 weeks. The training stimulus was three sets of four to eight repetitions of each exercise, using rice bags (1-1.5 kg) or elastic tubing for resistance. The exercises were intended specifically to strengthen the muscles considered relevant for the functional tasks, but were not to mimic the functional measurements. No intervention was prescribed for the controls.
Measurements: Pre- and posttraining measurements were made for isometric knee extensor strength (IKES), isometric elbow flexor strength (IEFS), handgrip strength (HGS), leg extensor power (LEP), and anthropometric indices (Body impedance analysis, arm muscle circumference, and body weight). Functional ability tests were chair rise, kneel rise, rise from lying on the floor, 118-m self-paced corridor walk, stair climbing, functional reach, stepping up, stepping down, and lifting weights onto a shelf. Pre- and posttraining comparisons were made using analysis of variance or analysis of covariance (using weight as a covariate) for normally distributed continuous data and one-sided Fishers exact test (2 x 2 table) for discontinuous data.
Results: Improvements in IKES (mean change 27%, P = .03), IEFS (22%, P = .05), HGS (4%, P = .05), LEP/kg (18%, P = .05) were associated with training, but the improvement in LEP (18%, P = .11) did not reach statistical significance. There was an association between training and a reduction in normal pace kneel rise time (median change 21%, P = .02) and a small improvement in step up height (median 5%, P = .005). The other functional tests did not improve.
Conclusions: Progressive resistance exercise can produce substantial increases in muscle strength and in power standardized for body weight in healthy, very old women. However, isolated increases in strength and LEP/kg may confer only limited functional benefit in healthy, independent, very old women.