Kinesiology department examines exercise benefits for elderly

There are some unmistakable hallmarks of age: stooped posture, loss of coordination and slow movement. Researchers say those are the result of sarcopenia, the gradual loss of muscle mass and function that is associated with the aging process.

Using special machines and exercises, UM students and faculty in the kinesiology department’s Max Orovitz Laboratories conducted a study last fall to learn more about improving functionality in senior citizens.

“People are living longer, but function is declining,” said Anoop T. Balachandran, research assistant at the lab. “And there is not a single drug for functionality.”

The study focused on people between the ages of 60 and 90 with sarcopenic obesity, which is low muscle mass and high body fat. The study began by testing a person’s functionality during daily activities, such as getting up from a chair or picking something up off the ground.

Subjects were divided into two groups of nine. One group did resistance training, which is a slower workout, while the other does circuit training, which uses faster movements.

“Elderly who want to work out are always told to exercise at a slow pace,” Balachandran explained. “We want to see if exercising at a faster pace is more effective.”

The group with the faster training was known as the “power group.” They didn’t rest in between exercises and hoped to lose more body fat while gaining more power as a result.

“We already know from previous studies that high-speed training increases power and that power is the major component that dictates the ability to do activities of daily living,” said Joseph Signorile, professor at the Department of Kinesiology and Sports Sciences. “So we’re training power to increase functionality.”

The machines used were pneumatic, meaning they use air pressure instead of weights. It is easier to do high-speed training with these machines compared to machines at the gym.

These machines also provided data about each subject through a key inserted into the machine that recorded their resistance level, repetitions and power every time they worked out. This data then was automatically fed into their respective folders in the computer, where trainers analyze the information.

“The key records everything they’ve done on that machine,” Signorile said. “That means we’re probably going to have one of the first studies ever that can track day to day the improvements that people made over the period they were being trained.”

Once the groups have completed their slow or fast training, the subjects are tested again on their functionality in daily activities.

The study took over two months was completed in mid-December, and the final results will be compared to pre-training data to help determine whether slow or fast training was more effective.

But even during the study, undergraduate trainers were seeing differences in the study subjects.

According to Federico De Faveri, a junior studying exercise physiology, the improvement in daily activities such as walking and balancing was visibly apparent, especially for those in the power group.

Another junior, Francesca Tebano, said she enjoys listening to the positive feedback from participants.

“As a trainer, it’s nice hearing how their life is becoming easier because they’re more functional and able to move around better,” she said.