Introduction: Sarcopenia is a prevalent disease characterized by the progressive loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength in older adults. Sarcopenia is associated with decreased mobility, quality of life; impaired metabolism, cell signalling; as well as an increased likelihood of disease, infection, falls, and early mortality rates. Resistance exercise (RE, i.e., weight-lifting) is an efficacious, non-pharmacological intervention used to mitigate the impacts of sarcopenia. The aim of this literature review is to summarize the effects of resistance exercise on skeletal muscle mass, strength, power, and function in community-dwelling older adults, as well as provide general resistance exercise recommendations for older adults to effectively counter sarcopenia.
Methods: We conducted a literature review to assess the impact of resistance exercise on muscle mass, muscle strength, muscle power, and functional capacity in older adults based on three primary criteria: 1) tested healthy, community dwelling participants ≥ 60 years old; 2) assessed the effects of RE on at least one of the aforementioned outcomes; and 3) were peer-reviewed and written in English.
Results: Studies involving both sexes and various RE programs regularly show increased skeletal muscle mass and strength following RE training. Additionally, RE appears to improve older adults’ neuromuscular performance, though improvements are significantly higher following high-intensity RE sessions. Further, RE improves skeletal muscle function as measured by various qualitative and quantitative tests. Although no specific RE program has been definitively shown to optimally support skeletal muscle adaptation in all older adults, RE, even in small doses, is clearly beneficial for older adults’ skeletal muscle health.
Discussion: Undoubtedly, RE has shown to be an efficacious treatment for sarcopenia. To achieve a more comprehensive understanding of how RE counteracts sarcopenia, further research – particularly well controlled randomized trials – are needed to elucidate the cellular processes underlying skeletal muscle’s deterioration with advancing age and subsequent response to RE.
Conclusion: Taken all together, RE has a positive impact on skeletal muscle mass, strength, neuromuscular performance, and muscle function in older adults.
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