Older women can get just as many benefits out of resistance training as men, a new study shows.

Dr Amanda Hagstrom

The research, by a team from UNSW, looked 30 different studies involving more than 1,400 participants.

It’s the first systematic review and meta-analysis comparing the benefits of resistance training  in older men and women.

“Historically, people tended to believe that men adapted to a greater degree from resistance training compared to women,” lead author Amanda Hagstrom says.

“We found no sex differences in changes in relative muscle size or upper body strength in older adults.

“It’s important for trainers to understand that women benefit just as much as men in terms of relative improvement compared to their baseline.”  

The researchers compared muscle mass and strength gains in 651 older men and 759 older women across the 30 studies.

The participants were aged between 50 and 90, with most having no prior resistance training experience.

Researchers found that in terms of ‘absolute gains’ older men tended to build bigger muscles and were more likely to more improvement to upper and lower body strength. 

However, when it came to relative lower body strength, older women had the biggest increases.

“Our study sheds light on the possibility that we should be programming differently for older men and women to maximise their training benefits,” Dr Hagstrom says. 

“Older men might benefit from higher intensity programs, but older women might benefit from higher overall exercise volumes – that is, more weekly repetitions.”

Longer training durations could also help increase relative and absolute muscle size (for older men) or absolute upper body strength (for older women). 

Dr Hagstrom says strength training has many health benefits, especially for older people. 

This includes increased stamina, balance, flexibility and bone density.

It has also been shown to help improve sleep, sense of wellbeing, and decrease the risk of injury. 

Weight training can also help prevent and treat many age-related chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.”

“Learning more about resistance training and its benefits could help improve overall health outcomes for Australia’s ageing population,” Dr Hagstrom says.

The article is published in the current edition of the journal Sports Medicine .

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