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Growing Older, Getting Stronger

Growing Older, Getting StrongerSimple weightlifting and strength training exercises can turn back the clock on aging, according to groundbreaking research by a Tufts expert.

Boston [06.26.02] With baby-boomers getting older, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that the American senior citizen population will reach an unprecedented 50 million within the next 20 years. But the elderly population of the future may not have to worry about the aches and pains commonly associated with old age, thanks to what experts have described as "groundbreaking" research by Tufts' Miriam Nelson Ph.D.

"Studies by Nelson...have shown unequivocally that strength training is a fountain of youth," reported a New York Times profile of Nelson's research.

In a recent study, Nelson measured the impact of strength training on older women. The women in Nelson's study who lifted weights twice a week wound up with bodies considered up to 20 years younger than they were at the start. Those who did no strength training continued to age even further.

"There's no doubt that a woman of any age -- whether she's 45, 65 or 95 -- can really turn back the biological clock with strength training," Nelson -- the founder and director of Tufts' Center for Physical Fitness -- said in an interview with ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings.

According to Nelson's research, such improvements can be visible in just weeks.

"In just four weeks of two 40-minute sessions a week, Nelson promises, you will see a distinct improvement in your strength and well-being," reported the Times. "Within two months, the women in Nelson's studies typically doubled the amount of weight they could lift."

And the sooner a person starts such a program, the more effective it will be, says Irwin Rosenberg M.D. -- the dean of Tufts' Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and a senior scientist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition and Resource Center on Aging at Tufts.

"If you take people that have maintained physical activity from early on, and you compare them to ones that haven't, at the age of 70 or 75 there's a striking difference," Rosenberg told the Naples Daily News. "Not only do the ones who have been physically active and have done resistance training have more muscles, but they also have far less fat in their muscles."

Beyond physical change, the weight training also had psychological impact. Nelson told the Times that the women who exercised felt "happier, more energetic and self-confident."

In one instance, the New York Times reported that a 68-year-old woman was able to move four tons of topsoil with a shovel and wheelbarrow after adopting a regular weightlifting routine.

While an exercise program should be introduced gradually, Nelson told the Times that bigger weights bring bigger results.

First-time exercisers should "start with the heaviest weight you can lift eight times in succession without sacrificing good form," reported the newspaper.

Further information on Nelson's findings about the relationship between weightlifting and aging can be found in her best selling book, "Strong Women Stay Young."

The Tufts scientist has also authored four other books based on her exercise and nutrition research, including "Strong Women Stay Slim,""Strong Women Strong Bones,""Strong Women Eat Well," and "Strong Women and Men Beat Arthritis."

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