Nutrition Column – Benefits of Strength Training for Older Adults Highlighted at Smith Conference

Use it or lose it! This adage can be applied in many situations, but one area where it certainly holds true is in maintaining the strength of our muscles and bones as we age. Observational studies indicate that about 1 percent of muscle mass is lost per year after age 50. This age-related loss of muscle is known as sarcopenia.

Like a double-edged sword, sarcopenia can result from certain medical conditions, and can increase one’s risk of developing certain chronic conditions, such as osteoporosis. While some age-related loss of muscle is inevitable, the good news is that current research shows that many of the age-related physical issues older adults experience can be avoided.

Specifically, several studies are now showing that targeted exercises referred to as strength training can help combat weakness, frailty and the debilitating consequences of these issues in older adults. Done regularly (two to three days per week), strength training builds muscle mass and helps preserve bone density, thereby promoting independence and continued vitality. By strength training, we’re not talking about body building, but a set of simple exercises performed using low levels of free and ankle weights, with small but consistent increases in the amount of weight being lifted over time.

The documented benefits of such training are immense and include increased muscle and bone mass, muscle strength, flexibility, dynamic balance, self-confidence and self-esteem. Strength training also helps reduce the symptoms of various chronic diseases such as arthritis, depression, type-2 diabetes, osteoporosis, sleep disorders and heart disease. In addition, research demonstrates that strength training in older adults with functional limitations helps reduce the incidence of falls.

This year, maximizing health in aging through strong bones and muscles is one of the topics being featured at the Lillian Fountain Smith Conference for Nutrition Educators. On Wednesday, June 8, Dr. Miriam Nelson and colleagues with the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts University will offer a pre-conference training workshop in Ammons Hall on the Colorado State University campus for people interested in learning about and teaching the StrongWomen program, designed for middle-aged and older women. Dr. Nelson is the author of the best-selling Strong Women series, which includes such books as "Strong Women and Men Beat Arthritis" (2002), "Strong Women Eat Well" (2001), "Strong Women, Strong Bones" (2000), "Strong Women Stay Young" (2000) and "Strong Women Stay Slim" (1998).

The workshop will include training on the evidence-based exercise program itself, along with how to effectively instruct and assist participants in learning the exercises. Attendees will also receive guidance on setting up and conducting their own StrongWomen programs at local senior centers, places of worship, community fitness centers and other places where older adults convene. Dr. Nelson will offer a book signing at 4:30 p.m.

On June 9 and 10, the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition will host the Smith Conference at the Marriott Hotel in Fort Collins, Colorado. Dr. Bill Evans with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ Center on Aging will open the conference with a discussion on reversing sarcopenia (age-related muscle atrophy) through diet and exercise. Next, Dr. Miriam Nelson will discuss her research on the benefits of strength training among older adults. Other topics to be discussed at the conference include strengthening communities through local foods and clarifying the omega-3 fatty acid controversy.

The Smith Conference, including the StrongWomen Training workshop, is open to the public. For more information, contact Pam Blue at (970) 491-7435 or check out the conference Web site at  

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by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension