Geriatric Doesn't Have to Mean Weak

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As America’s baby boomers age, the incidence of massage therapists seeing elderly clients increases too. The popular wisdom indicates that as a client ages, her muscle strength declines. New research debunks that theory.
Women considered elderly, those ages 65 to 84, can increase muscle strength as much as young women can, a new study from the University of New Hampshire finds, indicating that decline in muscle function is less a natural part of the aging process than due to a decline in physical activity.
The research, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, compared strength gains of inactive elderly women and inactive young women after both groups participated in an eight-week training regimen. Yet while the two groups increased similar percentages of strength, the older group was far less effective in increasing power, which is more closely related to preventing falls.
"Power is more important than strength for recovery from loss of balance or walking ability," says Dain LaRoche, assistant professor of exercise science at UNH and the lead author of the study. Preventing falls, which occur in 40 percent of people over 65 and are the top reason for injury-related emergency room visits, is the driving force behind LaRoche’s research agenda.
"There’s a gap between life expectancy and quality of life in older age," LaRoche says. "We can improve that a lot with physical activity."

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