Promoting Healthy Ageing with Kettlebell Training: A Pragmatic Controlled Trial and Qualitative Study.

  • Neil Meigh

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

Being physically active in older age is critical. An accelerated loss of muscle and strength in later life, without intervention, can lead to reduced function and loss of independence. Sadly, only a small proportion of older adults are currently meeting national physical activity guidelines, which increases their risk of poor health outcomes later in life. My original contribution to knowledge is demonstrating how kettlebell training can be offered to community-dwelling older adults, to promote physical activity, social engagement, and psychological wellbeing; to make life worth living. Critically, I will show that group-based kettlebell training provides clinically meaningful increases in health-related physical fitness. Training five days a week for four months, insufficiently active community-dwelling older adults maintained an attendance rate over 90%, through the COVID-19 pandemic. Kettlebell training resulted in large clinically significant improvements in grip strength, and significant improvements in cardiovascular capacity, muscular strength and endurance, functional capacity, and body composition, with no non-responders.

Strength training programs for older adults are often underdosed. Adults over 60 have a different risk profile, but older age is not synonymous with fragility. This thesis shows that older adults, with no strength training experience, can train safely with kettlebells. Until now, hardstyle kettlebell training has been largely reserved for healthy younger adults, however, older adults, up to 80 years of age, demonstrated considerable physical capacity, a determination to succeed, and responded well to a program of high volume, high intensity
training. An embedded qualitative study revealed that participants felt fitter, stronger, and more capable because of their kettlebell training, and thrived on the experience of exercising with like-minded new friends.

This thesis reports several unanticipated discoveries: i) increases in muscle mass sufficient to reverse a diagnosis of sarcopenia, ii) increases in bone mass sufficient to advance osteoporosis to osteopenia, iii) improvements seemingly independent of “mastering” the kettlebell swing, and iv) an extraordinary enthusiasm among previously untrained individuals, to continue training, with one third of the participants independently still training together a year after the trial.

Resistance exercise remains one of the most effective standalone interventions for promoting physical health and maintaining independence in later life. Common barriers for older adults engaging in regular physical activity include: a perceived lack of time, disinterest, feeling too “old”, fear, pain, and illness. For muscle strengthening activities in particular, barriers include: a lack of age-appropriate programs, lack of knowledge, and a perception that resistance training is too complex. Results of this thesis suggest that most, if not all, of these common barriers can be overcome with kettlebell training.

The goal of this thesis was to establish whether kettlebell training could be used to promote healthy ageing and exercise autonomy among insufficiently active community-dwelling older adults. The results are resoundingly positive. This thesis makes a substantial contribution to the field of healthy ageing. The findings, of the seven studies contained herein, may be used by healthcare providers to implement similar programs of group-based kettlebell within their local community. The importance of habitual exercise for older adults cannot be overstated. It is incumbent upon all healthcare providers to support older adults in meeting physical activity guidelines, to reduce the burden of preventable lifestyle-induced diseases, and to promote wellness and health. Kettlebell training is a feasible and effective option to that end.
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorWayne Hing (Supervisor), Justin Keogh (Supervisor) & Ben Schram (Supervisor)

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