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Maintaining or improving strength just to get stronger is a worthy goal in itself, but strength has added value. Strong muscles and muscle groups affect almost every system of the body, every physical activity of daily living, and help combat many common health conditions. Here are three additional benefits.
Researchers at Tufts University found that older men and women with knee osteoarthritis (OA) who participated in a 16-week strength-training program had a 43 percent decrease in pain. The subjects also reported increased muscle strength, better overall physical performance, decreased disability, and improved symptoms of the condition.
Clinics in Geriatric Medicine published a review of multiple studies and concluded that progressive resistance training by older people with OA produced lower extremity strength and function, as well as pain reduction.
In the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, research teams from UCLA and the National Taiwan University found that non-weight bearing strength training resulted in an increase in knee extensor muscle strength.
“Strengthening exercises help maintain and improve your muscle strength. Strong muscles can support and protect joints that are affected by arthritis,” says The Arthritis Foundation.
Eighty-five percent of Americans will have lower back pain at some point in their lives. It is the second most common reason for seeing a physician. For 90 percent of the population, lower back pain often resolves within two to four weeks, with rest. But the rate of recurrence can be as high as 80 percent.
In fact, a study in a recent issue of Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases suggests that lower back pain causes more disability worldwide than any other condition. With the number of older adults in the U.S. increasing rapidly, the incidence of low back pain is also likely to increase.
Strength training can help with recovery and even prevention. The main cause of low back pain is weak core muscles—those in the hips, pelvis, abdomen, and trunk. The core has to be strong to support your body’s weight. When excessive pressure is put on the structures that form the spinal column, pain can be severe and serious injury is a possibility.
Muscle weakness doesn’t necessarily mean that a person always feels weak in the core area, but rather in the arms and legs. A strong core transfers strength and provides power that allows for quick, strong, and efficient movement needed to lift, push, pull, and walk.
Weak core muscles get stronger with a strength training program that focuses on specific core muscle groups.
Strength in the arms, legs, and core muscles provides the foundation for good balance. If you have trouble pushing with your arms to get out of a chair or off the sofa, it may be a sign of upper body weakness. If you are at times unsteady on your feet, the cause could be weakness in the lower part of the core or in your leg muscles. It could also be a warning that you are at higher risk for falls and decreased mobility.
The four-part quadriceps, as well as the muscles of the buttocks and hip, are particularly important for balance and stability. These muscles can keep you from stumbling when you trip on a rug or other objects, and from losing your balance when there is a change in momentum, which can happen when you are standing on a bus or train. The quads help stabilize the knee joint and reduce stress on knees affected by osteoarthritis.
Three studies reflect the body of evidence supporting strength training for better balance and improved mobility. For instance:
- Adults age 50 to 75 with diabetes had impaired balance, slow reaction time, and a higher risk for falls, but all three variables improved after resistance and balance training. —Diabetes Care, April 2010
- Australian researchers found that a program integrating principles of balance and strength training into everyday activities resulted in significant improvements in strength, function, and participation in habitual physical activity. —BMJ, June 2012
- In Germany and England, a research team reported that resistance and balance training increased leg strength in older adults. —PLOS, February 19, 2015