The results of these pieces of research, conducted in collaboration with the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (Portugal) and the Federal University of Rio Grande del Sur (Brazil), have been published in two articles in the scientific journal Experimental Gerontology: “Effects of high-speed power training on functional capacity and muscle performance in older women” and “Strength prior to endurance intra-session exercise sequence optimizes neuromuscular and cardiovascular gains in elderly men”.
The results confirm the hypotheses raised in recent decades by various researchers with respect to the capacity of power training to prevent or reduce their loss in older people. As Mikel Izquerdo explains, “It has been established how people between 60 and 70 years of age who participated in a four-month training programme to develop muscular strength and mass regained the functional capacity and muscle power of twenty years previously; in other words, they were the same as their peers who started the same training programme at the age of 40.”
In his view, there are two good reasons why we should encourage people to undertake regular physical exercise from the age of 50 onwards: “Firstly, because it is a cornerstone in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular and other chronic diseases; and secondly, because it plays a crucial role in preventing and treating the decline in functional capacity, which tends to emerge in a highly significant way at this age.” In this respect, the researcher insists that physical exercise would be a plausible measure for improving the functional capacity of older people and for reducing healthcare expenditure.
The interest in ageing has grown exponentially over the last few decades and some of its aspects, like disability or fragility, have become the centre of attention in basic, clinical and population research. In Spain during the last century the population doubled, the number over 65 increased sevenfold, and the number of octogenarians thirteenfold.
The loss in muscular mass and muscular qualities in ageing is directly related to the reduction in mobility and the capacity to perform the activities regarded as basic or instrumental for daily life. “This loss of muscular mass and qualities (peripheral muscular dysfunction) has manifested itself in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, within the multifactorial process of these diseases and delimits the participation of the patients in activities in daily life, and also contributes towards mortality risk.”
In this context the interventions that have proved to be the most effective in delaying disability and other situations that arise with ageing are the multi-component physical exercise programmes and, above all, power training. These exercises have also shown themselves to be useful in events frequently associated with falls, cognitive deterioration and depression.
Relatively intense physical training has to be adapted to the patient’s functional capacity and is accompanied by significant increases in muscular strength, aerobic physical condition, joint mobility, motor skill, self-esteem and longevity, irrespective of age or sex, as long as the intensity and duration of the training period are sufficient.
The initial increases in strength can be as high as 10-30% during the first weeks or 1-2 months of training, both in middle-aged and elderly people.
A second study has been able to show how in older people the prescribing of a training programme that combines muscular strength and endurance exercises is one of the best strategies for improving neuromuscular and cardiovascular function, while improving functional capacity and promoting the enhancement of health and qualify of life.
Likewise, it has been observed that the carrying out of muscular strength exercises before cardiovascular endurance exercises is the best sequencing for obtaining the maximum benefits from a physical exercise programme.
“These results,” concludes Professor Izquierdo, “are of great practical interest for promoting health and quality of life through the participation of older people in exercise programmes.”