A new study from Wake Forest University suggests that older adults may be at risk of losing lean muscle mass when they combine a low-calorie diet with aerobic workouts. Instead, combining weight training with dietary changes can help preserve muscle. Preserving lean muscle mass is critical as we age because it helps us maintain an active lifestyle and remain independent.
“A lot of older adults will walk as their exercise of choice,” said Kristen Beavers, assistant professor of health and exercise science at Wake Forest and lead author of the study. “But this research shows that if you’re worried about losing muscle, weight training can be the better option.”
The study, published in the journal Obesity, followed nearly 250 adults in their 60s for 18 months. Researchers tracked how much fat and how much lean muscle people lost from cutting calories while either lifting weights or walking.
“Surprisingly, we found that cardio workouts may actually cause older adults with obesity to lose more lean mass than dieting alone.”
It’s an important finding as more Americans grow older. Losing lean muscle mass could increase their risk of physical disability.
Preserving muscle mass while losing weight is critical for older adults. Older adults who gain and lose weight repeatedly usually don’t regain muscle, they regain fat mass.
The study also found:
- People lost about 10 pounds when they cut calories but didn’t exercise. They lost 16 pounds when they added walking to their weight-loss program. They lost 17 pounds when they restricted calories and lifted weights for exercise.
- Those who cut calories and walked lost the most muscle mass – roughly 4 pounds. The adults who only restricted their calories or who also added weight lifting lost about 2 pounds of muscle mass. “Put another way, the percentage of weight loss coming from muscle mass was 20 percent in the weight loss plus walking group, 16 percent in the weight loss alone group, and 10 percent in the weight loss plus weight training group,” a news release states.
- Loss of fat was associated with faster walking speed, while loss of muscle was associated with reduced knee strength.
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