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Functional Performance With Age

The Role of Long-Term Strength Training

Unhjem, Runar PhD1,5; van den Hoven, Lene T. MSc1; Nygård, Mona MSc2; Hoff, Jan PhD1,3; Wang, Eivind PhD1,2,4

Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy: July/September 2019 - Volume 42 - Issue 3 - p 115–122
doi: 10.1519/JPT.0000000000000141
Research Reports

Background and Purpose: Physical function is shown to decline with age. However, how long-term strength training may attenuate the age-related limitation in functional tasks with various force demands is unclear.

Methods: In a cross-sectional study, we assessed maximal muscle strength, initial and late phase rate of force development (RFD), as well as 4 tests of functional performance in 11 strength-trained master athletes (MAs), 11 recreationally active older adults (AEs), 10 sedentary older adults (SOAs), and 9 moderately active young controls. Functional performance was divided into 2 categories: more force-demanding (chair-rising ability and stair-climbing power) and less force-demanding (habitual walking speed and 1-leg standing) tasks.

Results: MA exhibited 75%, 45%, and 26% higher leg press maximal strength compared with SOA, AE, and young, respectively (P < .01). MA leg press RFD was not different from young, but was higher compared to AE and SOA during both the initial (0-50 ms: 104%-177%, P < .05) and late phase (100-200 ms: 37%-52%, P < .05) of muscle contraction. MA also showed better mean (SD) performance compared with AE and SOA (P < .05) in more force-demanding functional tasks; chair-rising ability (MA: 6.2 (1.2) seconds; AE: 8.6 (1.8) seconds; SOA: 9.7 (3.0) seconds; young: 6.5 (1.0) seconds) and stair-climbing power (MA: 701 (161) W; AE: 556 (104) W; SOA: 495 (116) W; young: 878 (126) W). No differences (mean (SD)) were observed between MA and AE in less force-demanding tasks, but both groups were superior (P < .05) compared with SOA in walking speed (MA: 1.49 (0.21) m·s−1; AE: 1.56 (0.17) m·s−1; SOA: 1.27 (0.22) m·s−1; young: 1.62 (0.22) m·s−1) and balance test completion (MA: 45%; AE: 45%; SOA: 0%; young: 100%).

Conclusion: Our results reveal that maintaining a high muscle force–generating capacity into older age is related to beneficial effects on functional performance, which may not be achieved with recreational activity, thus highlighting strength training as an important contribution to healthy aging.

1Department of Circulation and Medical Imaging, Faculty of Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway.

2Department of Research and Development, St Olav's University Hospital, Trondheim, Norway.

3Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, St Olav's University Hospital, Trondheim, Norway.

4Department of Medicine, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.

5Faculty of Professional Studies, Nord University, Bodø, Norway.

Address correspondence to: Runar Unhjem, PhD, Department of Circulation and Medical Imaging, Faculty of Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Prinsesse Kristinas gt. 3, 7006 Trondheim, Norway (

The study was funded by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Kevin Chui was the Decision Editor.

© 2019 Academy of Geriatric Physical Therapy, APTA
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