Combining supplements and exercise
In the study, 45 women in their mid-sixties participated in a 90-day lower body strength-training program, with three resistance exercise sessions per week. In addition, 15 of the women took 2 grams of fish oil per day during the program, and another 15 of the women took the same amount of fish oil, but started it 60 days before beginning the 90-day exercise period. The remaining group of 15 women took no fish oil.
Fish oil makes for a better workout
In order to quantify changes in leg muscle strength and ability to perform physical tasks (functional capacity), special tests were done at the beginning and end of the study, which showed:
- Strength in leg muscles increased for all women but leg strength increased more in women taking fish oil supplements.
- Women taking fish oil also had greater improvements on tests measuring strength and speed of muscle contraction in response to electrical stimulation (electromyography).
- Functional capacity increased in all groups but performance on one of the four functional tests increased more in the women taking fish oil.
In general, taking fish oil supplements in the months prior to beginning the workout program did not enhance fish oil's effect on strength building or functional capacity.
Since the control group did not take a placebo, the study results are not as strong as they might be, but still, "The main finding was that fish oil supplementation along with strength training improved the response of the neuromuscular system," the study's authors explained. "Fish oil may be an attractive supplement for the elderly to maximize their neuromuscular responses to strength training, which is important to life quality."
Getting a great workout
Developing strength as we age has many benefits: more muscle and less fat means lower risk of some chronic diseases. Along with muscle, we also build stronger bones, and better core body strength makes us more stable and less likely to fall. And higher functional capacity preserves our quality of life. Here are some things to keep in mind if you are considering starting a strength-training program:
- Remember to warm up and cool down. This means spending a few minutes doing gentle stretches and light exercises to prepare your muscles for the workout and ease them out when it's over.
- Start slowly. Strength training involves lifting weights or working against resistance, such as specially made rubber bands. Increase the resistance slowly over weeks or months, beginning with little or none, to avoid injury and muscle soreness. One rule of thumb is that you should be able to perform two sets of 10 to 15 repetitions with ease before increasing your workout.
- Take time off. Strength training sessions should be at least two days apart, unless they are focused on only one body region. For example, you could do upper body exercises one day and lower body exercise the next day. Aerobic activities like walking, cycling, or swimming is good cross-training and can be done every day.
- Get some guidance from an expert. Enlist the help of a trainer who has experience working with elders before getting started, especially if you have never done strength training before. Be sure to talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise program if you have any health problems.
- Consider taking fish oil. Fish oil might help you get more from the energy you put in.
(Am J Clin Nutr 2012;95:428-36)