Resilience to exercise detraining in healthy older adults

J Am Geriatr Soc. 1995 Mar;43(3):209-15. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.1995.tb07324.x.


Objective: To determine the effects of stopping and restarting two types of exercise programs in older adults.

Design: A controlled, longitudinal study that utilized random assignment of volunteers. Treatments were exercise programs designed to improve cardiovascular or neuromuscular fitness.

Measurements: Dependent variables measured before and after implementation of treatments were: maximum oxygen consumption, oxygen pulse, treadmill and cycle training workloads, quadriceps isokinetic peak torque, quadriceps isokinetic total work, and quadriceps training workload.

Main results: Exercise training was highly effective in improving cardiovascular endurance or muscular strength. Ten weeks of exercise detraining resulted in small losses in newly gained cardiovascular capacity but more noticeable losses in muscular strength. Exercise retraining was accomplished easily using cardiovascular or resistive exercises. The functional benefits of restarting a cardiovascular exercise program appeared additive despite a 10-week intervening period of exercise detraining. In this age group, cardiovascular exercise produced limited improvements in muscular strength, and resistive exercise training positively influenced cardiovascular exercise performance.

Conclusions: Older adults are fairly resilient to 10 weeks of cardiovascular detraining and retain newly gained muscular strength for at least 5 weeks, despite an interruption of formal exercise. An occasional missed exercise session or temporary cessation of habitual exercise should not be a cause for distress in exercising older adults. Instead, they should realize the case with which they may restart their exercise program and also appreciate the generalized fitness benefits that can be ascribed to becoming more active.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Exercise Tolerance
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Fitness
  • Reference Values
  • Time Factors