As presented in Table 2, all three age groups lowered their resting blood pressures as a result of the eight week exercise program. However, the seniors experienced the greatest improvement, with a 3.7 mm Hg decrease in diastolic blood pressure and a 6.2 mm Hg reduction in systolic blood pressure.
The change in systolic blood pressure was particularly important to the senior participants because they began the study above the hypertensive level (140 mm Hg), but ended within the normal range.
Discussion of Findings
The results of this relatively large research study should be encouraging news for senior men and women. Consider the following key findings for the 341 older adults who completed the eight week basic fitness program.
1. Seniors can safely participate in a well-designed and carefully-supervised program of strength exercise. There were no injuries among the senior subjects in this study. Of course, all participants should have their physician’s approval before beginning an exercise program.
2. Seniors can improve their body composition. The seniors in this exercise program reduced their percent fat by 2.0% after just two months of training. This was similar to the body composition improvements attained by the younger adults.
3. Seniors can decrease their fat weight. Like the younger program participants, the senior subjects lost more than four pounds of fat weight during the eight week training period.
4. Seniors can increase their lean (muscle) weight. The seniors in this study added 2.4 pounds of lean weight after two months of training. In the important area of muscle replacement, the senior men and women did just as well as the young and middle-aged adults.
5. Seniors can reduce their resting blood pressure. Following eight weeks of regular exercise, the senior subjects experienced a 3.7 mm Hg drop in their diastolic blood pressure and a 6.2 mm Hg drop in their diastolic blood pressure. These resting blood pressure decreases were greater than those of the younger program participants.
6. Seniors can develop physically active lifestyles, even after years of sedentary behavior. Over 90 percent of the senior program participants continued to exercise after the completion of the study. They were highly satisfied with the results of the eight-week exercise program and committed themselves to keep up their training efforts.
In summary, seniors have much to gain from regular strength training, particularly as part of a supervised exercise program. The senior men and women in this study reported looking, feeling and functioning better, which is consistent with their recorded improvements in bodyweight, body composition, and resting blood pressure. It appears that an hour of exercise, two or three days a week is one of the best investments seniors can make for their health and fitness.
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. and author of the new Nautilus book, Building Strength and Stamina.
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