PURPOSE: To investigate if combined strength and aerobic training can enhance aerobic capacity in the elderly to a similar extent as aerobic training alone when training duration is matched.
METHODS: Elderly men and women (age 63.2 ± 4.7) were randomized into two intervention groups: an aerobic group (AG, n = 17) and a combined group (CG, n = 16). Subjects trained 40 minutes three times a week for 12 weeks. Both groups trained 20 minutes at 65% of heart rate reserve on ergometer cycles followed by another 20 minutes on the ergometer cycles for AG and 20-minute strength training for the lower body for CG. The primary outcome was VO2max. Secondary outcomes were maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) in isometric knee extension, 1 repetition maximum in three leg exercises, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, blood pressure and score on the Health Survey Short Form 36 (SF-36).
RESULTS: Both groups improved VO2max (p < .01) and MVC (p < .001). VO2max increased 17% confidence interval (CI) [7.4-26] in CG and 26% CI [14.1-38.2] in AG, with no significant difference between groups. MVC increased 22% CI [16.3-27.7] in CG and 9% CI [4.6-13.5] in AG with CG improving MVC more than AG (p < .01). CG's score on the general health dimension on the SF-36 health survey improved more than AG's score.
CONCLUSION: Elderly can substitute a part of their aerobic training with strength training and still improve VO2max to a clinically significant degree when strength training is performed with large muscle groups subsequently to the aerobic training. Combined training additionally improves strength and self-assessed general health more than aerobic training alone.