It’s Never Too Late: Seniors Can Rapidly Build Muscle Mass with Weight Training

A new study challenges the belief that older individuals cannot build substantial muscle mass and strength through weight training.

Contrary to popular wisdom, a recent study has found that healthy individuals in their 60s, 70s, and beyond can safely start lifting weights and rapidly build substantial muscle mass, strength, and mobility. This groundbreaking research challenges the previously held belief that older individuals cannot respond to resistance training and demonstrates that it is never too late to start weight training. The study also suggests that our perceptions of physical capabilities in old age may need updating.

Aging Muscles Can Grow

The belief that individuals in their 80s and 90s are less likely to gain muscle mass and strength has been debunked by a new study led by Luc van Loon, a professor of human biology at Maastricht University. Previous weight-training research often excluded older participants, leading to the assumption that their muscles wouldn’t respond or that they would be unable to handle the training. However, van Loon and his colleagues were convinced that muscle tissue is constantly turning over throughout our lives, and therefore, older individuals should be able to strengthen and grow their muscles.

Study Design and Results

The study recruited 29 healthy older men and women, divided into two groups: the “younger old” (ages 65-75) and the “older old” (at least 85). None of the participants had regularly weight trained before. The volunteers underwent a supervised weight training program three times a week for 12 weeks, using weights set to as much as 80% of their full strength. Surprisingly, both groups responded powerfully to the exercise. The older old group showed greater gains in muscle mass (11%) and strength (46%) compared to the younger old group (10% muscle mass and 38% strength). The oldest group also demonstrated significant improvements in mobility, with a 13% increase in their ability to rise from a chair and move around, compared to 8% in the younger group.

The Power of Training

The results of this study convincingly demonstrate that it is never too late to start weight training. Michael Roberts, a professor of kinesiology at Auburn University, emphasizes that the improved mobility of the oldest group is particularly encouraging since the loss of physical function defines frailty. However, the study has limitations. It was small in scale and lasted only three months, and the training was supervised, making it difficult to replicate for ordinary individuals. Moreover, the participants in the study were healthy for their ages, and individuals with serious illnesses or disabilities may have different limitations.

Seeking Medical Advice and Training Programs

If individuals over the age of 60 are interested in starting a weight training or exercise routine, it is advisable to consult with a doctor first. Training programs specifically designed for older individuals can be found at gyms or community centers, with costs often covered by Medicare or other insurance. While it is better to start weight training at an earlier age and continue throughout life, the study’s key takeaway is that there is no age limit or hard stop on our bodies’ ability to adapt and improve.

Conclusion: The study’s findings challenge the prevailing belief that older individuals cannot build substantial muscle mass and strength through weight training. It highlights the plasticity of muscles in healthy older people and suggests that our perceptions of physical capabilities in old age need to be updated. The study serves as a reminder that it is never too late to start exercising and that weight training can have significant benefits for seniors, including improved muscle mass, strength, and mobility. However, it is important to seek medical advice and find appropriate training programs to ensure safety and effectiveness. The study’s results offer hope and inspiration to seniors who may have previously believed that age limits their ability to build muscle and maintain physical function.


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