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Resistance training and proper diet essential to healthy ageing – especially for women

Peter Edholm

Physical activity and eating right are extra important for women, to maintain their muscle mass and functional ability. Peter Edholm talked about his research at the Swedish Association for Physical Activity and Sport Medicine’s (SFAIM) annual meeting, where he also received an award for best presentation.

Peter’s pointers

Exercise programme:

  • Resistance training twice a week.
  • Exercise with relatively high intensity. Perform no more than 10–15 repetitions. If you can do more repetitions, increase the weight for the activity.
  • Focus on the leg muscle groups – they affect your daily life the most.
  • Work out at a gym. Exercise machines are safe, and you can get assistance. There are often groups for seniors, and you may develop a new circle of friends, making working out more fun!

Nutrition plan:

  • Eat more fish and seafood (e.g. salmon, mackerel and shrimp).
  • If you eat meat, choose lean meats (e.g. chicken or venison).
  • Prioritise lots of colour – eat vegetables, fruit and berries.
  • Use rapeseed oil instead of cooking oil, sunflower oil and margarine.

Peter Edholm is a doctoral student at Örebro University and researches how physical activity, exercise and nutrition affect muscle mass and functional ability in ageing. He also works with both recreational and elite athletes, government agencies and industry with development work, evaluation, advice and support to optimise health and performance.

He has conducted the study with supervisors Fawzi Kadi, Andreas Nilsson and researchers at the Metabolism, Inflammation and Physical Activity Research Group.

After the age of 50, we begin to lose muscle mass and strength. Women are especially at risk since they generally have less muscle mass and strength than men.

“It sneaks up on us. Many may notice that they begin to find it difficult to get up from low chairs or to climb up on footstools. These types of activities are dependent on what we refer to as explosive capacity, which we lose first – and to a greater extent than our maximal strength,” says Peter Edholm, doctoral student in Sport Science at Örebro University.

His six-month-long study followed women aged 65–70. They were divided up into three groups: a control group, a resistance training-only group, and a third group who did both resistance training and followed a nutrition plan.

Rich in omega-3

“We applied a nutrition plan rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These are found in foods like oily fish, rapeseed and walnuts, but may also be consumed as supplements in the form of fish oil, and they have anti-inflammatory properties.”

“The diet we chose was based on previously conducted studies that showed that the reason for ageing persons losing muscle mass and functional ability was the occurrence of low-grade chronic inflammation,” explains Peter Edholm.

The results were clear. The control group lost muscle mass and functional ability to a degree corresponding to normal ageing. The group that exercised improved their strength, explosive capacity and functional ability – but did not increase in muscle mass.

Exercise combined with nutrition

Those women who combined weight training with the omega-3 diet increased their muscle mass, and their improvements in explosive capacity and increases in functional ability were more significant than compared to the weight training-only group.

“They also increased their muscle mass – and that is important. If you get stronger without increasing your muscle mass, then your strength increase depends solely on improved coordination between nerves and muscles. That is so say, you use your existing muscles more efficiently.”

“Unfortunately, this type of adaptation is quickly lost if exercise is paused. Increased strength as a result of increased muscle mass is more sustainable and is worth striving for,” says Peter Edholm.

Only resistance training increases muscle strength, but cardio training can contribute to maintaining the muscle mass you already have.

“Our research shows that it is never too late to begin exercising. And it does makes a difference. From everyday mobility to being able to regain your balance if you slip – and avoid an accident.”

Text and photo: Linda Harradine
Translation: Jerry Gray