Can Strength Training Improve Cardio Function in Elderly?

Posted On Aug 16, 2013 By Tim Arndt, Resistance Training Specialist

Resistance training class using free weights at the gym

Resistance training in older populations has long been proven to an effective means in improving one’s overall quality of life by reducing the effects of sarcopenia– the natural occurrence of age related muscle wasting– and improving balance. Reducing sarcopenia increases strength and power, which is effective for fall prevention and enables older persons to remain independent. But can resistance training improve cardiovascular function in the elderly population?

It’s well known that today there is an alarming amount of medications being prescribed to control and treat cardiovascular diseases, including high blood pressure. If resistance training can double up as an effective means to improve cardiovascular health, it could be argued that resistance training is the single most important exercise an older person can do. The American Heart Association Science Advisory says that the benefits of resistance training for cardiovascular health are becoming more accepted and appreciated, and the most recent research is showing positive results.

For example, an article published in Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology1 examined nine randomized controlled trials on the effects of resistance training on cardiovascular health and concluded that even moderate intensity resistance training was able to reduce blood pressure.

So we know that you don’t have to strain yourself too hard to get results, but the next question is how often do you need to strength train? Most of the research that has shown positive results used a protocol of just 2-3 days per week using full body workouts. Therefore, the workouts neither have to be very frequent nor intense to get results. This could potentially have a profound impact for the elderly population as their bodies are less capable of performing frequent or intense exercises.

An effective program might look something like this:

Exercise Sets Reps
Chest Press 2 12-15
Seated Row 2 12-15
Ab Crunch 2 12-15
Leg Press 2 12-15

Reference

1Fagard, R. H. (2006). Exercise is good for your blood pressure: Effects of endurance training and resistance training. Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology, 33, 853-856.