A new study finds that older adults who do heavy resistance training for a year can maintain the gained muscle strength for years afterward. This information is important since depletion of leg muscle strength is regarded as a strong predictor of death in older people, and maintaining leg muscle strength is vital, the researchers concluded.  

The research, conducted in Denmark, followed over 350 people in their late 60s and early 70s for four years. Study participants were randomly assigned either to 1 year of lifting heavy weights 3 times a week (149), to moderate intensity training (154), involving circuits that incorporated body weight exercises and resistance bands 3 times a week, or to a comparison group (148), who were encouraged to maintain their usual levels of physical activity.

Four years later, the heavy lifters were still as strong as when they started. Their leg strength hadn’t changed. But the other two groups had grown weaker. The heavy lifters also kept more of their lean muscle mass than the others.

Interestingly, both exercise groups avoided gaining belly fat, while the non-exercisers added some over the four years.

Researchers concluded that their study provides evidence that resistance training with heavy loads at 65 years or so can have long-term effects spanning several years. “The results, therefore, provide means for practitioners and policymakers to encourage older individuals to engage in heavy resistance training.”

It’s worth noting that all study participants were fairly active to begin with, averaging nearly 10,000 steps a day. But even for these folks, adding heavy resistance training made a difference down the road.