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For many senior adults, maintaining or improving functional fitness and physical performance is important. This refers not to being able to run 5k, or squat 150lbs, as it might to you or I, but rather having the ability to carrying the groceries home, climb the stairs to the front door, or bend and pick up the spoon that fell on the floor. These seemingly mundane tasks of daily life are fundamental to being able to live independently – one of the most important things to many people as they age. As we age, we naturally become frail, and being overweight or obese can exacerbate this process. Preserving muscle mass and bone density is important to maintaining physical ability, so losing weight must be done carefully to preserve muscle mass.

Researchers conducted a trial among nearly 160 overweight seniors, who were on average 70 years old. They wanted to know the most effective way for seniors to lose weight, while maintaining their functional fitness. The methods tested were aerobic exercise alone, resistance exercise alone or a combination, compared to doing nothing.

As one might expect, physical performance improved in all the exercise groups, compared to the people that didn’t do any exercise. The greatest improvements in fitness were seen in the group that did both aerobic and resistance exercises.

As far as weight loss, all groups doing exercise lost on average 9% of their body weight. However, the groups doing resistance exercises preserved more of their lean muscle mass. Weight loss among seniors can accelerate age related loss of muscle mass, so engaging in weekly resistance exercises may help to slow this process.

The bottom line here for many people is that if living independently is important to you, partaking in ANY exercise will go a long way to making that possible. Remember that all groups improved their functional fitness. If you know nothing about weights, just get started doing something you do know how to do, like walking or attending Aquafit classes. From there, you can slowly learn more about other types of exercises – perhaps there is a senior’s fitness class in your community – you might meet some new people as well! Focus on what you can do right now, and you might be surprised what you can do a year from now!

Reference: Citation: Villareal DT, Aguirre L, Gurney AB, et al. Aerobic or resistance exercise, or both, in dieting obese older adults. N Engl J Med 2017;376(20):1943-1955.

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