Discussion: Neurological Adaptations
These studies illustrate that educational interventions produce positive results including increased health and strength. In the present study, the increase in strength knowledge in the EST group may have been a direct result of the educational sessions that were offered. These educational sessions may also have increased motivation and desire to participate in the strength-training sessions as well as increase an older adult’s sense of control over their health. However, the educational program in this study was only 8 weeks and the long-term impact of the program on adherence was not evaluated.
Functionality and strength as assessed by the Up and Go and Handgrip tests, respectively, for the ST and EST groups improved over the 8-week period. This is in accordance with other studies (Galvao & Taaffe, 2005; Mroszczyk-McDonald, Savage, & Ades, 2007). Typically, sig- nificant increases in function can become apparent in as little as 2 weeks, but they are reported more commonly in 4–6 weeks (Mian, Baltzopoulos, Minetti, & Narici, 2007). Improved function noted in participants in both groups can be attributed to increased strength due to the resistance-training program. Strength training generally causes neurological adaptations and increases in muscle size that produces greater muscular force resulting in an increased function. Mikesky et al. (1994) showed that after 12 weeks of resistance training using elastic bands, isokinetic eccentric knee extension and flexion increased by 11.7% and 10.1%, respectively. Trappe et al. (2001) reported increases in the size, strength, and maximum power of both slow- and fast-twitch muscle fibers in older adults following a progressive resistance-training program. In contrast, Slivka, Raue, Hollon, Minchev, and Trappe (2008) showed minimal increases in cross-sectional area in very old adults (> 80 years) and concluded that the increase in strength experienced as a result of the program was mostly neurological. According to the above studies, it appears that older adults under the age of 80 may still experience increases in muscle size, whereas older adults over the age of 80 experience more neurological adaptations. The average age of the participants in this study was 83.8 years, and the improvements in functional ability could be most likely explained by neurological training.
In adults 65 years of age and older, handgrip strength is highly correlated with independent physical function (Mroszczyk-McDonald et al., 2007). In the current study, participants performed
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three exercises specifically to ellicit an increase in upper body strength. Several studies have found that handgrip strength increases after a strength-training program (Arai, Obuchi, Kojima, Matumoto, & Inaba, 2006; Brill, Probst, Greenhouse, Schell, & Macera, 1998). Interestingly, after 8 weeks of strength training, handgrip strength significantly increased for the EST group only. This increase in upper body strength can be attributed to higher adherence rates for the EST group.
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