New research suggests that older adults should regularly engage in both endurance (walking, swimming, etc.) and resistance (calisthenics, weight training, etc.) exercise to improve physical function and to reduce diabetes risk.

The study, conducted in the laboratory of Dr. Robert Ross at Queen’s University, demonstrated that seniors who performed the prescribed exercise saw tremendous improvements in their ability to perform physical tasks as well as their ability to metabolize sugar – improvements that occurred in concert with reductions in fat mass and increases in muscle mass.

“While separately the endurance and the resistance exercise modality provided some benefit, participants who performed a combination of both types of exercise had ‘best of both worlds’ effects,” states Dr. Lance Davidson, primary author of the study.

As individuals age, they tend to store more body fat, particularly in the abdomen, but lose skeletal muscle throughout the body, leading to a condition termed ‘sarcopenic obesity’. This combination of detrimental bodily changes elevates the risk of disease and disability among the older demographic.

Fortunately, the right exercise prescription reverses these aging trends.

“Incredible!” Exclaims study participant, Mr. Bob Wells, describing the physical benefits he noticed while participating in the study. In particular, Wells describes a significant loss of abdominal weight in response to the exercise – a finding shared by many fellow participants.

Encouragingly, since participating in the study back in 2005, Wells has maintained his fitness regimen by regularly engaging in a combination of endurance and resistance exercise at the local gym.

And what is the benefit of his regular exercise?

“On my next birthday I will be 73 and I’m still climbing trees,” laughs Wells, who does, in fact, climb trees while hunting.

Wells was one of over 130 dedicated older adults from the Kingston community who participated in the study, each for a six-month duration.

“The success of this study is, in no small measure, owed to the personal sacrifice of these dedicated volunteers,” states Davidson.

But in the end, in terms of their health and the important scientific knowledge gained, all the participants’ hard work certainly paid off.

So how can you get started?

The easiest way to improve your health and physical function is by adding a few refreshing walks to your regular schedule with the goal of obtaining about 90 minutes of walking every week. Once you have become accustomed to the walking routine, try adding 20 minutes of resistance training, three days per week.

With a total of 90 minutes of endurance exercise and 60 minutes of resistance exercise per week, you will be performing the same routine as did the participants in the study.

And before you know it, you just might find yourself alongside Mr. Wells, climbing trees.

Peter Janiszewski

Published on Feb. 5, 2009 in the Kingston This Week