Clinical Feasibility of a Free-Weight Strength-Training Program for Older Adults

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An emerging trend in the field of gerontology is the recognition that older adults, especially the frail elderly population, can increase their levels of strength and thus improve functional capability. Social acceptance of physical frailty and provision of care and assistance to dependent persons has now turned to helping the frail elderly adults maintain or improve functional independence.


The purpose of our study was to show the feasibility and effectiveness of a low-cost strength-training program using free weights for increasing strength and functional fitness among older adult volunteers. Participants aged 73 to 94 years were residents of a multilevel care retirement community in Columbia, SC. The strength-training program, led by an instructor, used dumbbells and ankle weights and was conducted in a multipurpose recreation room at the retirement facility.


Functional performance measures (timed chair stand, 6-meter walk, stair climb, balance) handgrip strength, and self-assessment of activity level were outcome measures. All 25 participants completed the strength-training program. The average program adherence rate of all participants was 87 percent. No participant injuries or other adverse effects were observed. Functional performance measures improved significantly among program participants, with the greatest improvement in the timed chair stand (33.5 percent improvement) and the stair climb (17.6 percent improvement).


Free-weight strength-training programs are appropriate for older adults, can be implemented in community settings, and are associated with significant improvement in functional performance. (J Am Board Fam Pract 1998;11:445-51.)

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