Regular exercise is recognised by health experts as a key weapon in the battle against chronic lifestyle-related diseases, but many health-conscious adults find themselves divided into either those who perform ‘aerobic’ exercises like running and walking or those who go to the gym for ‘resistance’ or strength training.

A new study led by DCU researchers has discovered that for people over the age of 65, a combination of aerobic and strength work, known as ‘concurrent’ training, is more effective than either one done separately.

Concurrent training improves a number of health markers, increases muscle strength and there is a “marked effect” in reducing trunk or ‘belly’ fat, a joint team of researchers from the School of Health and Human Performance at Dublin City University (DCU) and University College Dublin (UCD) has concluded.

Lead Investigator and Associate Professor of Sport and Exercise Physiology at DCU, Dr Brendan Egan, says, “A lack of adequate physical activity is associated with elevated risk of lifestyle-related chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, and of increasing interest, the decline in muscle size and function with advancing age.”

Regular exercise can delay the onset of many of these conditions, and while any kind of exercise is better than none, we were interested in whether there might be an optimal form of exercise in older adults.”

More than 80 participants over 65 years of age and medically stable took part in the 12-week exercise programme undertaken at Medfit Proactive Healthcare, Blackrock, and funded by the Irish Research Council. In one of three groups, they were observed doing ‘aerobic’ training, such as walking or running; ‘resistance’ training in the gym with weights; and finally, a combination of the two – ‘concurrent’ exercise.

Importantly, the three different exercise types were ‘time matched’, with participants training three times per week for 24 minutes of exercise, in each training session. This is important because it means that the added benefits are because of the combination of exercise types rather than doing more exercise in total.

Dr Brendan Egan added, “The time course design with assessments after 6 and 12 weeks of training was chosen specifically to provide information that might inform practitioners about how and when to assess, reassess and prescribe training in this population depending on individual goals”.

The key findings of the study, ‘Concurrent exercise training in older adults’ reveal that when it comes to the over 65 age group:

  • Concurrent exercise training is the most effective and likely to simultaneously target improvements in muscle strength, aerobic fitness and physical function in a time-efficient manner.
  • When time-matched, concurrent exercise training is more effective in increasing walking speed, leg strength and decreasing belly
  • The “marked effect” on reducing fat was observed in some of the subjects after only 6 weeks of the 12-week programme.
  • Researchers regard reducing belly fat as a “key factor” in combating lifestyle diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
  • Time constraints are often cited as an obstacle to exercise training and this research shows that results can be achieved with exercise sessions lasting less than 25 minutes but performed at least three times per week.

 

Published paper available: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/sms.13254

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