What Is Effective Training for Older Adults?

If you have clients over 60 you may be wondering what the best way for them to work out. Researchers recently looked at older women, and found out they can do a whole heck of a lot!

As we age, we naturally begin to wonder how our limits change. Conventional wisdom is that you can still be strong as you age, but your recovery ability goes down, preventing you from exercising as hard as you used to. This is probably conventional wisdom for good reason, as you have fewer resources in the body to repair the damage done from exercise.

So what is the best way to work out for older adults? A recent study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham was conducted to determine at least a part of that answer. How often should older individuals be exercising for best results?

In the study, each participant was female and aged 60 or over, and placed in one of three groups. One group trained once per week doing aerobic work, and once doing resistance training (1 + 1). The second group did two days of each (2 + 2). And, you guessed it; the third group did three days of each (3 + 3). The researchers then measured various forms of energy expenditure and a few other variables.

Now, let’s first look at the conclusion posited by the researchers. They said each group showed benefits to fitness, body fat, and mood. The only difference was that energy expenditure was greater in the 2 + 2 group than the others, likely because the “non-exercise training” activity was notably higher in this group. From this they concluded that 3 + 3 is not superior to the other two.

The conclusion of the study rings false to me, or at least trivial. First off, I’m surprised that 3 + 3 performed so well against the other two methods, to be honest. I’m a fan of high frequency training, but 3 + 3 is 6 days worth of training each week for 16 weeks. The cardio was at 80% maximum heart rate for 40 minutes each session, and each weight lifting day was 200 total reps of various exercises at 80% of their one rep max. Now I get that their maximum strength probably wasn’t very high to begin with, but wow these ladies worked their butts off. That’s a workout that would push a person a third of their age.

Besides how hard they worked, in the conclusion it was the non-exercise activity that made the difference. This means they were tired or sore the next day, so they didn’t garden and do other activities as much as they normally do. Not to mention, as they indicate in the study, the people didn’t have as much spare time because of all the exercise. Perhaps with a better designed plan, they would have achieved better results.

I suppose the take-home point here is that sometimes more isn’t always better, especially with a poorly designed plan when your recovery ability might already be reduced due to age. Personally, I mostly learned that older women can work out pretty hard without any noted detrimental effects besides less spare time. Keep your work out smart, and you can safely and successfully exercise into your older years.


1. GR Hunter, et. al., “Combined Aerobic/Strength Training and Energy Expenditure in Older Women,” Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Jan 30

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