Our findings demonstrate that 12 weeks of SA promoted positive and large changes in the performance of all functional fitness tests. Although SA training did not alter BMI, it was effective in improving WC, which has been considered an indicator of central obesity in older women. Many studies have suggested that even small variations in the unit of WC can modify a health risk condition in older individuals and consequently improve their quality of life. Additionally, WC is strongly and directly associated with the risk for several chronic diseases, such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes, that contribute to the decline of functional fitness (13,37).
The loss of functional fitness has been associated with the decline of the ability to produce force (2,7). Hence, the maintenance of muscular strength is also crucial for older adults to maintain their capacity to independently perform ADLs (8). According to Hughes et al. (19), the decline of lower body strength in older individuals can vary from 14 to 16% per decade, indicating a stronger relevance for our findings. Step aerobics training was effective in improving lower body strength (CS) with an increase of 18.2 and 25.8% in upper body strength (AC).
A previous investigation found an increase in lower body strength (quadriceps strength) of 14% but did not find significant results in handgrip strength after 24 weeks of SA and walking training in older women (48-65 years) (10). DiBrezzo et al. (12) investigated the effect of a 10-week strength and balance training on older men and women (mean age of 74.9 years). The increase of lower body strength (CS test) was similar to our study (20%; p = 0.005); however, the increase of upper body strength (AC test) was lower than reported in this study (13%; p = 0.03). Additionally, Cao et al. (9) conducted a multicomponent training program, including pool walking, balance ball, and resistance exercises, with older women aged between 65 and 79 years, in which lower body strength (CS test) increased 13.5% (p = 0.001).
Balance and agility are other broadly studied neuromuscular components of functional fitness in older adults, because of their relation to the ability to perform ADLs (4). Dynamic balance and agility (8 ft), showed an improvement of 19% in our study. Similarly, Shigematsu et al. (32) demonstrated an increase in dynamic balance and agility of 20%, evaluated by a test involving walking around 2 cones, in older women after 12 weeks of aerobic dance training (p < 0.05).
Cardiorespiratory fitness is also considered to be a determinant factor of functional limitations (27,36). The maintenance of satisfactory levels of CRF may extend life expectancy free from functional limitations, altering the common trajectory of functional decline and postponing or even preventing disability (16,27,36). In the current study, CRF showed an increase of 9.4% after the SA training. Many studies that verified the effects of other aerobic modalities and functional exercises on CRF observed a wide range of improvements (1,33,35). For example, Alves et al. (1) verified an increase of 22% of CRF (6MW test) after 12 weeks of aquatic training with 53 women (mean age of 78 years). Takeshima et al. (33), found an increase of 16% of CRF (12MW test) after 12 weeks of walking training with 113 men and women (mean age of 73 years), whereas Toraman et al. (35) found an increase of 14% of CRF (6MW test) after 9 weeks of multicomponent exercise training with 42 men and women (60-86 years). Conversely, Lord et al. (25), who conducted a study with 508 men and women aged between 62 and 95 years, verified an increase of 4% (p < 0.05) in CRF after a multicomponent exercise program (walking, aerobic dance, strength and balance exercises). Therefore, it seems that the dose-response training effect on CRF of older individuals may be dependent of myriad factors, such as exercise modality, gender, age, initial fitness level, and specially exercise intensity.
Significant reductions on the performance of all functional fitness components were observed after 1 month of detraining with the exception of BMI and upper body muscular strength (AC). The reverse effect caused by the detraining period confirmed the effectiveness of SA training on the functional fitness components of older women. These results are similar to those observed by Toraman and Ayceman (34) who conducted a multicomponent training program (walking, calisthenics, and stretching) with 42 men and women (60-86 years). According to their results, after the second and fourth weeks of detraining, there were significant reductions in the performance of all functional tests, with subjects returning to the baseline condition. In the current study, although BMI did not differ significantly over time, the results of WC have a greater clinical relevance, as reported previously (13,37). After detraining, an attenuated decline of upper body strength (AC) was also observed. However, these changes did not show significant differences when compared with baseline values. These results could be explained by the fact that reductions in upper body strength tend to be at a lesser magnitude as compared to lower body strength (19). Being so, it is important to highlight the possibility that the reverse effect might be confirmed for this variable if a longer detraining period was used (>1 month).
The results of the present study demonstrated that 12 weeks of SA training reduced WC and increased the strength, balance, agility, flexibility, and CRF of older women. Therefore, it is suggested that SA training should be used as an effective strategy to promote improvements in the functional fitness of apparently healthy older women. Its low operational cost, easy applicability, high attendance rate, and the fact that it can be performed by many individuals of different fitness levels at the same time make this modality viable to be implemented in any community center.
We would like to thank the participants for their excellent cooperation during the conduction of this study. No conflict of interests is verified among the authors. The results of the present study do not constitute endorsement of the product by the authors or the National Strength and Conditioning Association. No funding was received for this work from National Institutes of Health, Welcome Trust, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, or Others.
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