Strength Training
February 4, 2015 6:45 PM   Subscribe

It's Never Too Late (SLYT)


Elderly residents of a nursing home
subjected to a "high-resistance weight training program" averaged 174% increase in strength and near 50% increase in tandem gait speed (heel-to-toe walking). Two subjects (of 8) gave up their canes, one no longer needed to use their arms to rise from a chair. Low to moderate intensity strength training trials produced little in the way of results in elderly. tl;dr old people can lift heavy and get strong too

Barbell Training Is Big Medicine - Dr. Jonathan Sullivan
"For some time now, in the course of my duties as an emergency physician, I’ve had strange thoughts at the bedside of some of my patients. I’ll approach a patient who has come to be treated for chronic pain, fatigue, elevated blood pressure, shortness of breath, or a blood sugar that’s out of control. I find myself confronted by a very overweight, deconditioned 52 year-old, going on 70, with battered joints, atrophic muscles, no physiologic reserve, an inability to get off the gurney without groaning and wheezing, and a grim future. When I work them up, I find no medical emergency, just what I have come to call “diatensionolesity”—type II diabetes, hypertension, a screwed-up blood-lipid profile, and obesity.
And I think to myself: If I could get you under the bar, I could change your life."

Frailty Syndrome - [T]here is now strong evidence to support the theory that the development of frailty involves declines in energy production, energy utilization and repair systems in the body, resulting in declines in the function of many different physiological systems. This decline in multiple systems affects the normal complex adaptive behavior that is essential to health [13] and eventually results in frailty typically manifesting as a syndrome of a constellation of weakness, slowness, reduced activity, low energy and unintended weight loss.[14] When most severe, i.e. when 3 or more of these manifestations are present, the individual is at a high risk of death.
posted by mrbigmuscles (29 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
This reminds me of a segment I saw on NHK regarding "Disuse Syndrome" in the aftermath of 3/11.
posted by damo at 7:30 PM on February 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Jeez. This video really hit me hard. My meemaw is 97 and I love her absolutely dearly - she still lives independently and we've only recently convinced her to use her walker in the ice and snow.
She took a fall the other day - it seems that her confidence is outstripping her legs' abilities to navigate. It's incredible frustrating for a woman who managed to keep a farm in the family during the great depression.
But the message has been drilled in by the doctors that she has osteoporosis (as a child she had rickets!) and so she can't have any kind of exercise where there could be impact injuries.
I wonder if we could do something with those big therapeutic rubber bands. I really think her recent falls have been a result of muscle atrophy more than anything else. Thanks for sharing this - it's incredibly motivating.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:36 PM on February 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

Also, I recently told her about the 'anti-vax' movement. She was a nurse and remembers when sulfa tablets first came out, well before penicillin. Her exact words were, "people have such short memories." I found that very haunting.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:38 PM on February 4, 2015 [24 favorites]

Reminds me of this: Simple Sitting Test Predicts How Long You'll Live: "Flexibility, balance and muscle strength are key indicators of longevity."
posted by gemutlichkeit at 7:38 PM on February 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

Cheers, Gus!

I find myself confronted by a very overweight, deconditioned 52 year-old, going on 70, with battered joints,... This is not an exact description of me, but it is a good paraphrase. Watching Gus and reading the articles is motivating to me. Thanks for the eponysterical post mrbigmuscles.
posted by 724A at 7:40 PM on February 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I also enjoyed the story and video from a couple of months ago about the 77-year-old powerlifter.

Baby_Balrog, I recall reading studies that showed that even light weights can bring dramatic improvements in the elderly, and I just found an activity program for seniors from the Centers for Disease Control that she should be able to do.

I discovered barbell training about a year ago and I love it so much. It's hard, but so very worth it.
posted by mogget at 7:50 PM on February 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

mogget, that seems to contradict the second link posted above, which suggests that lighter weight isn't as useful. That kinda makes sense to me, given that once you've adapted to a certain level of stress, you won't see much more benefits from it unless you increase the level of stress.
posted by protocoach at 7:54 PM on February 4, 2015

Huh, I used to workout at that gym.
posted by tamitang at 8:11 PM on February 4, 2015

Oh my god, YES. This is just fantastic.
posted by mistersquid at 8:11 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Babybalrog, one of the primary benefits of heavy strength training as you may know, is increased bone density.

Doctors don't really know much about it. Most will shy away from weights due to liability issues. There are some out there. Dr. Sullivan is not hard to get hold of. Maybe your meemaw is not in Michigan but he answered my emails and maybe he is a starting point.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 8:12 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

For someone like Baby Balrog's mom, that would be a good start. Once the person starts to see and feel the benefits, she can try some of the exercises from this NIH SeniorHealth page.

And here's a story from NPR that suggests that sedentary adults start slowly and build from there.
posted by mogget at 8:12 PM on February 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

I love seeing "unlikely" people getting stronger. Weightlifting is one of the most potentially valuable types of exercise, and when performed safely, is totally viable for almost anyone regardless of gender, age or ability level.

Too many people don't do it for the wrong reasons - they think it's only for meat heads, or (often the case with women) they think it will make them look like a freak of nature. Or more tragically, they think they aren't strong enough in the first place. There should be something ironic about that, but it's actually just unfortunate. The people who might be able to benefit the most are often intimidated.

Nothing psyches me up more than seeing someone demolish their own preconceptions while finding new capabilities within themselves. It's no coincidence that those often go hand-in-hand.

God, I want to run to the gym right now and throw some iron around. Unfortunately, a winter cold has laid me low for the time being. Also, the gym closed a while ago, so I'd get arrested.
posted by Edgewise at 9:24 PM on February 4, 2015 [11 favorites]

a "high-resistance weight training program" averaged 174% increase in strength and near 50% increase in tandem gait speed (heel-to-toe walking)

That's interesting because walking speed is a good predictor of lifespan.
posted by eye of newt at 10:14 PM on February 4, 2015

Simple Sitting Test Predicts How Long You'll Live

I've never understood that damn thing. If I try to get down in a sitting position on the floor without using my arms, I will land with a crash on my ass or crack my skull against the nearest sharp object. It would be the kind of impact that would almost certainly injure me and rattle the whole damn house, a lot like doing a trust fall with nobody to catch me. If I try to get up off the floor without carefully using my arms and/or a nearby object to brace myself, I'll basically catapult myself directly at the nearest wall. Yes, I'm inflexible (thanks, osteoarthritis!) but I think I would have had these same problems with the sitting test when I was 16. I'm very tall and awkwardly built, and that test feels like it was designed for some springy little elf I've never been.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:58 PM on February 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Something I found fascinating was that running speeds decline significantly faster than rowing speeds with age (which don't droop much at all).

From what I've gathered this is because running requires fast twitch muscles vs rowing that needs slow twitch. The former declines significantly with age while the latter not so much.

Seriously, those times for rowing are shockingly good as age ratchets up. We can all only hope to be John Hodgson's when we're 100+.
posted by pmg at 11:32 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've never understood that damn thing.

The real weakness in the measure is that they don't tell you how to sit down or how to get up -- because a great percentage of the ability to do what they ask isn't about balance or flexibility, but actually knowing how to do it (i.e. knowing where to shift your weight, not whether you are capable of doing it).

To take it to a ridiculous extreme, it's sort of like testing the ability to use a human powered vehicle by asking an avid bicycler to take a unicycle test.
posted by smidgen at 12:33 AM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

After running about 20 miles a week for 15 years, I decided to add that NYT 7-minute workout (pushups, crunches, planks, squats, lunges) because, hey, I must be in pretty good shape, it couldn't be that hard and it couldn't hurt. I was wrong on all three counts.
posted by klarck at 5:08 AM on February 5, 2015

Researchers at OHSU (in Oregon) have done several studies on whether or not specific exercise programs could improve bone density and balance in older folks -- they have created a program called the Better Bones and Balance program which may be of interest to those of us eligible for AARP or soon to be :).

Also, my favorite powerlifter is Dottie Ward, who at 87, set the world record for bench press and deadlift for women in her age group and weight class. She lives in Napa County at the California Veteran's Home (she was in WWII) and is a good friend of my dad (who also lives there). She's 91 now and still lifting, but just bench press these days as she no longer has the balance for deadlifting. She has inspired me to take up powerlifting and I'll be entering my first competition next month at the age of 54.
posted by elmay at 7:06 AM on February 5, 2015 [10 favorites]

After running about 20 miles a week for 15 years, I decided to add that NYT 7-minute workout (pushups, crunches, planks, squats, lunges) because, hey, I must be in pretty good shape, it couldn't be that hard and it couldn't hurt. I was wrong on all three counts.

I have to say, I am a big fan of that program. I lost about 75 pounds doing a modified version of it over the course of about seven months.

Those HIIT routines (NYT 7-minute, boot camp, tabatas, or the dreaded Insanity) definitely earn the "HI" part (i.e. high-intensity). The point is, almost nothing can prepare you for a HIIT workout other than a prior HIIT workout.
posted by Edgewise at 8:44 AM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

My wife convinced me to take an interest in my health a few years back, starting by quitting smoking (again), and taking some beginning Pilates classes. We're now visiting the gym 3 times a week for cardio exercise and weight training. I think there's a strong possibility that I won't grow into my parent's stooped shuffling gait by the time I'm 60, and this post reinforces my desire to continue training.
posted by endotoxin at 9:34 AM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

So here's the thing. I would like to lift weights for all the reasons discussed in these articles, but I'm totally intimidated and put off by the culture surrounding it. I don't feel like weight-lifting culture is compatible with my goals and attitudes: I want to maintain strength, balance and flexibility and to avoid osteoporosis, but I would really like to avoid weird looks obsession or any talk about getting a super-attractive physique, am not willing to eat paleo or really make any radical changes in my diet at all, do not want to give up cardio (because I enjoy it), am anxious to avoid re-injuring my shoulder and therefore want to be careful about starting with heavy weights, and am not willing to make weight-lifting a central part of my identity. I really wish someone would start a weight-lifting gym for normal, middle-aged-and-above people, because I would join in a minute.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:06 AM on February 5, 2015

I really wish someone would start a weight-lifting gym for normal, middle-aged-and-above people, because I would join in a minute.

You've pretty much just described my gym. (I'm not middle-aged, but I'd estimate the VAST number of users are.) I go to a straight-from-central-casting neighborhood gym, and the weight room is about fifty-fifty dudes from roughly my age cohort (early-to-mid thirties) and older guys. It's also about fifty-fifty people who...aren't quite meatheads but clearly are there for the lifting, and people who have probably been ordered to attend a gym by their doctor, so you actually get a good range of body types and abilities. (There's like two other ladies who I see in there regularly, but that's a whole other can of worms.)

Basically -- these places exist, I swear! It's worth it to shop around and find the gym that's the right fit for you. For what it's worth, no one's ever said a word to me in the weight room, and I'm definitely not the only one who lifts and then goes on to do cardio. It sounds like you might benefit from 1) finding a gym that fits your personality then 2) hiring a personal trainer who fits your needs, especially because of that injured shoulder.

If you want to start feeling out a culture of friendly weightlifting that avoids the cultural bullshit, I highly recommend stumptuous. (Nominally for women, but it's got a pretty wide range of stuff on offer.) I started doing their two-day barbell workout and it's made me absolutely love lifting.
posted by kalimac at 11:15 AM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also just started up again at a gym for quote-endquote normal people; it's affiliated with one of the big local hospitals, and while there are a bunch of people in the weight area that obviously have been doing this for a while, there are also people who are doing supervised or semi/self-supervised physical therapy. I bought three sessions with a personal trainer to show me proper form for lifting, and boy howdy are there a bunch of areas that I have that need serious work, my regular (as the weather/seasons allow) cycling notwithstanding. I'm going to try the test that gemutlichkeit links to above... in private.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:30 PM on February 5, 2015

Everybody needs an Uncle Bryn.
posted by lagomorphius at 12:58 PM on February 5, 2015

So here's the thing. I would like to lift weights for all the reasons discussed in these articles, but I'm totally intimidated and put off by the culture surrounding it.

This is sort of what I was talking about earlier when I said so many people are unnecessarily put off from weight training. Let me try to address your reluctance.

First of all, lifting culture is a lot more diverse than you think it is. There are all kinds of lunatics involved in the scene, yes, but there are also a lot of really knowledgeable and conscientious people there, too. There is also a surprising amount of humor that pokes fun at lifters from within the culture (here I direct you to BroScienceLife). You'll find folks like Scooby, a guy who directly addresses strength training novices and elderly lifters.

Another thing about weight lifting culture is that you can completely ignore it. This is what I do: I go into the weight room, I rack my weights, I do my sets, and I go home. No need to high-five the bros. Everyone pretty much leaves each other alone. Nobody gets criticized for not putting enough weight on the bar. Even the bro-est of bros, when you do interact with them in the weight room, are generally friendly and considerate.

There's no gatekeeper at the weight room who is going to quiz you on your lifting expertise or identity as a lifter. Nobody cares (or knows) if you do paleo (I sure as hell don't). As for developing body image issues, that's completely up to you. I've mentioned it in previous posts, but the easy way to avoid that is to focus on the weight you put on the bar, not the image you see in the mirror. That's how I track my progress.

The only places I'd say you would want to consider making adjustments: you don't need to make a radical diet change, but you'll get the best results from insuring a high protein intake. Protein shakes are surprisingly palatable. As for lifting heavy, you always want to start light, but when you get the form down, lifting heavy (relative to your own abilities, of course!) is the best way to go. But it's not absolutely necessary.

But other than that, to be honest with you, there's no reason to hesitate. You can do whatever you want in the weight room, and nobody will question or harass you. If you think otherwise, that's just an understandable misconception. Just remember to re-rack your weights, please.
posted by Edgewise at 2:36 PM on February 5, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'm trying to decide how to use this myself. I have a pain condition provisionally diagnosed as fibromyalgia. In all honestly, I don't know what is wrong with me; but pain has cause a significant reduction in activity, and it has me really worried because I'm 38 and I swear I feel like I'm 88. The disuse syndrome linked above struck close to home. I've been wondering for a while now how many of my problems are due to the original syndrome, and how much is disuse. And it's a vicious cycle that doctors talk about because pain limits activity, but limited activity increases pain.

I was able to do the sitting test with ease (maybe .5 for balance, but I I'm not sure if my balance was lost or just shifting to keep from losing my balance.) But it also flared up the pain in my ribs I've been fighting the last several months. I wish I knew what that meant.

My two grandmothers are in their 90s. One is going into a nursing home, the other lives more or less independently still (one of her sons lives with her, but it's not always clear who's the caretaker). Grandma going to the nursing home has been in and out of assisted living facilities for the past 15 years. She never did much to pursue her own well-being; and just watches a lot of TV. She was a house wife that stayed home with the kids. She never learned to drive, and so spent a lot of time at home. Doubly so after my grandfather died.

Grandma two was a farmer, and so while technically a house wife, was also working until she moved into town in her 70s. When she moved into town, she moved into a walkable neighborhood. She drives, and even though she has severe osteoporosis, she goes out dancing, visiting friends and is very active. They are the same age (by some weird twist, were also married on the same day) but the ability to do things in old age is stark. I'm afraid I am going to be looking down barrel one, and a lot younger if I don't sort my shit out and figure out some balance between pain and exercise.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:13 PM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Gus's shirt in the video: Join The Fight Against Muscular Atrophy

posted by heatherann at 5:41 PM on February 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

I really wish someone would start a weight-lifting gym for normal, middle-aged-and-above people, because I would join in a minute.

Of course, there's always Planet Fitness. Personally, I think they take anti-broism too far with their storied "lunk alarm" and their commercials that outright insult people who take working out seriously. But, if all you want to do is lift light, it's an incredible bargain for a clean gym with a lot of other people who will be lifting light. Admittedly, PF is a great value for its target market.
posted by Edgewise at 7:05 PM on February 5, 2015

> I really wish someone would start a weight-lifting gym for normal, middle-aged-and-above people, because I would join in a minute

That's my Y, especially during the day. There are some circuit-training-types who are all RAR! -- they're mostly women in their late 30s, as far as I can tell -- but mostly it's just people doing their thing at whatever level they're at. There are people in wheelchairs, there are staff members who have disabilities, there are college-age people running on treadmills in their tight pants and elderly people doing water aerobics and a few women who work out wearing headscarves and tunics. And there are trainers who can show you how to do stuff. The same was true of the Y I belonged to in New York. I think it's a Y thing.

They're not religious, despite the (former) name. My one in Queens sometimes had bible quotations in the newsletter, and there's a stack of Gideon bibles on the bookshelf at my current one, but that's all.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:03 AM on February 6, 2015

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