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Promo on weight training for seniors study needed some safety caveats

Lose fat, preserve muscle: Weight training beats cardio for older adults

Our Review Summary

This news release describes a recent study on the effect different exercises combined with calorie restriction had on older adults. The researchers found that, unsurprisingly, exercise combined with diet was more effective at promoting weight loss than diet alone. The researchers also reported that the type of exercise matters in terms of where the weight loss comes from. They found that seniors who used walking as their exercise were more likely to lose muscle mass, while the weight training seniors lost more weight from fat. This is an important distinction, because muscle mass is important for seniors. Loss of muscle mass, the authors reported, can cause reduced knee strength and contribute to other physical disabilities.

However, there is a caveat that wasn’t described in the release. The study’s results apply to seniors with pre-existing mobility limitations and may not be applicable to the general population of seniors. The study was conducted on volunteers who had previously cited a limitation to their mobility. Consequently, their levels of physical activity may have been lower than the average senior at the start of the study and this might lead them to respond more rapidly than someone already in the habit of exercising. For example, when people suddenly pick up weight training they’re more likely to gain muscle (and more quickly) than someone who is already weight training.


Why This Matters

Our population is rapidly aging, and with it medical costs for the country are rising. Healthy and physically fit seniors require fewer medical interventions and experience a greater quality of life. Exercise can also help aging bones and joints, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and enable seniors to live independently for a longer period of time without worrying about accidents or falls. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also says that exercise for seniors can help improve blood pressure, relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression, and control pain from arthritis. This study provides compelling evidence that weight training might be an easy and effective way for seniors to improve their health.


Does the news release adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The news release does not make any mention of costs. Although weight training isn’t like a medication with a certain price, the release could have added information about the cost of local weight training classes at senior centers, YMCA classes, etc. There are also many articles online that discuss tips on weight training for seniors for free.

Does the news release adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The news release did a nice job at citing statistics from the study, especially at the end of the release. It rephrased some of the statistics to make them easier for a general audience to understand such as with the percentage of weight loss coming from muscle mass.

Does the news release adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The release did not address harms. We believe the release should have encouraged seniors, especially those with documented cardiovascular disease, to be assessed by a physician before starting a new exercise program.

This example of an exercise readiness questionnaire covers some of the considerations that seniors should discuss with a physician prior to embarking on a new exercise regimen.

Does the news release seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

This news release did a good job explaining the results from the study and briefly summarizing the study design at the end of the release.

However, it failed to mention one of the study’s biggest limitations: the nearly 300 volunteers had pre-existing issues with mobility and so these findings would likely not apply to the general population.

Does the news release commit disease-mongering?


The release did not engage in disease mongering.

Does the news release identify funding sources & disclose conflicts of interest?


The study funders were disclosed at the bottom of the news release.

Does the news release compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The way that this study was designed compared the intervention of weight training and a weight loss diet (calorie-restricted dieting), diet and walking, and diet alone. Both walking and weight training were much more successful for weight loss than dieting alone. However, the release could have made the distinction in benefits a bit more clear. While seniors lost similar amounts of weight when walking and participating in weight training, the study showed that much of the weight lost from walking was coming from muscle mass, while the weight loss from lifting was from fat.

Does the news release establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

As mentioned above, weight lifting classes are offered at most gyms and there are online tutorials as well, making it extremely available. However, it would have been nice to include some organizations that specifically offer weight training for elders.

Does the news release establish the true novelty of the approach?


The news release quoted a study author discussing the novelty of the weight lifting intervention and why the finding was so important. “Surprisingly,” the researcher said, “we found that cardio workouts may actually cause older adults with obesity to lose more lean mass than dieting alone.”

Does the news release include unjustifiable, sensational language, including in the quotes of researchers?


No unjustifiable or sensational language. With one exception, the release used “people first” language consistently when referring to obesity, a chronic disease. It referred to “adults with obesity” rather than “obese people.”

The phrase, “In this 18-month study of 249 adults in their 60s who were overweight or obese,” might have been written as “adults in their 60s with overweight or obesity.”

Total Score: 6 of 9 Satisfactory


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