Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Elderly obese women display the greatest improvement in stair climbing performance after a 3-week body mass reduction program


OBJECTIVE: To investigate whether stair climbing performance and body composition are similarly affected by a body mass reduction (BMR) program in obese individuals of different gender, age and body mass index (BMI) level.

DESIGN: Longitudinal, clinical intervention study entailing energy-restricted diet (5023–7535 kJ/day), nutritional education, psychological counselling and moderate physical activity (indoor cycling, outdoor walking, gymnastics routines, five sessions/week) during a 3-week period.

SUBJECTS: A total of 466 male and 807 female subjects categorized as a function of gender, age (< vs ≥50 y) and BMI (< vs ≥40 kg/m2).

MEASUREMENTS: Body mass, stair climbing time and power before and after the BMR program. Fat-free mass and fat mass were also evaluated by bioimpedance analysis, in a representative subgroup of 160 patients, to evaluate the relation between fat-free mass and power output.

RESULTS: Body mass, fat-free mass and fat mass significantly decreased following the BMR program (P<0.001), with male subjects reducing body mass and fat-free mass more than and fat mass less than the female subjects. Stair climbing time decreased (P<0.001) and therefore anaerobic power significantly increased 9.7% after the treatment. The greatest improvement in stair climbing performance was observed in obese women aged ≥50 y. Significant inverse correlations were found between initial power or fat-free mass level and respective percent increases (R=−0.35/−0.37, P<0.001) and between BMR-induced percent changes in body mass and power (R=−0.13, P<0.001).

CONCLUSION: Subjects with the lowest baseline level in stair climbing performance (and probably with the lowest amount of fat-free mass), that is, obese women aged more than 50 y, obtained the largest enhancement after the 3-week BMR program, likely improving overall functional capacities and resulting in greater independence during daily-living activities in such a population.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3


  1. De Vito G, Bernardi M, Forte R, Pulejo C, Macaluso A, Figura F . Determinants of maximal instantaneous muscle power in women aged 50–75 years. Eur J Appl Physiol 1998; 78: 59–64.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Martin JC, Farrar RP, Wagner BM, Spirduso WW . Maximal power across the lifespan. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2000; 55: M311–M316.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Lafortuna CL, Fumagalli E, Vangeli V, Sartorio A . Lower limb alactic anaerobic power output assessed with different techniques in morbid obesity. J Endocrinol Invest 2002; 25: 134–141.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Dutta C, Hadley EC, Lexell J . Sarcopenia and physical performance in old age: an overview. Muscle Nerve 1997; (Suppl 5): S5–S9.

  5. Vandervoort AA . Aging of the human neuromuscular system. Muscle Nerve 2002; 25: 17–25.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Sartorio A, Proietti M, Marinone PG, Agosti F, Adorni F, Lafortuna CL . Influence of gender, age and BMI on lower limb muscular power output in a large population of obese men and women. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2004; 28: 91–98.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Coggan AR, Spina RJ, King DS, Rogers MA, Brown M, Nemeth PM, Holloszy JO . Skeletal muscle adaptations to endurance training in 60- to 70-yr-old men and women. J Appl Physiol 1992; 72: 1780–1786.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Häkkinen K, Kallinen M, Izquierdo M, Jokelainen K, Lassila H, Mälkiä E, Kraemer WJ, Newton RU, Alen M . Changes in agonist-antagonist EMG, muscle CSA, and force during strength training in middle-aged and older people. J Appl Physiol 1998; 84: 1341–1349.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Sartorio A, Lafortuna CL, Massarini M, Galvani C . Effects of different training protocols on exercise performance during a short-term body weight reduction programme in severely obese patients. Eating Weight Disord 2003; 8: 36–43.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Winters-Stone KM, Snow CM . Musculoskeletal response to exercise is greatest in women with low initial values. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2003; 35: 1691–1696.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Margaria R, Aghemo P, Rovelli E . Measurement of muscular power (anaerobic) in man. J Appl Physiol 1966; 21: 1662–1664.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Sartorio A, Lafortuna CL, Conte G, Faglia G, Narici MV . Changes in motor control and performance after a short term body mass reduction program in obese subjects. J Endocrinol Invest 2001; 24: 393–398.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Sartorio A, Fontana P, Trecate L, Lafortuna CL . Short-term changes of fatigability and muscle performance in severe obese patients after an integrated body mass reduction program. Diab Nutr Metab 2003; 16: 88–93.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Lukaski HC, Bolonchuk WW, Hall CB, Siders WA . Validation of tetrapolar bioelectrical measurements to assess human body composition. J Appl Physiol 1986; 60: 1327–1332.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Gray DS, Bray GA, Gemayel N, Kaplan K . Effects of obesity on bioelectrical impedance. Am J Clin Nutr 1989; 50: 255–260.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Bray GA . Contemporary Diagnosis and Management of Obesity. Handbooks in Health Care Co Newton: Pennsylvania; 1998.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Skelton DA, Greig CA, Davies JM, Young A . Strength, power and related functional ability of healthy people aged 65–89 years. Age Ageing 1994; 23: 371–377.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Young A, Skelton DA . Applied physiology of strength and power in old age. Int J Sports Med 1994; 15: 149–151.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Skelton DA, Young A, Greig CA, Malbut KE . Effects of resistance training on strength, power, and selected functional abilities of women aged 75 and older. J Am Geriatric Soc 1995; 43: 1081–1087.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Joszi AC, Campbell WW, Joseph L, Davey SL, Evans WJ . Changes in power with resistance training in older and younger men and women. J Geront A Biol Sci Med Sci 1999; 54: M591–M596.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Fielding RA, LeBrasseur NK, Cuoco A, Bean J, Mizer J, Fiatarone Singh MA . High-velocity resistance training increases skeletal muscle peak power in older women. J Am Geriatr Soc 2002; 50: 655–662.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Izquierdo M, Häkkinen K, Ibañez J, Garrues M, Antòn A, Zúñiga A, Larrión JL, Gorostiaga EM . Effects of strength training on muscle power and serum hormones in middle-aged and older men. J Appl Physiol 2001; 90: 1497–1507.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Judge JO, Underwood M, Gennosa T . Exercise to improve gait velocity in older persons. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 1993; 74: 400–406.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Pu CT, Nelson ME . Aging, function and exercise. In: Frontera WR, Dawson DM, Slovik DM (eds) Exercise in Rehabilitation Medicine. Human Kinetics: Champaign, IL; 1999.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Lexell J, Downham DY, Larsson Y, Bruhn E, Morsing B . Heavy-resistance training in older Scandinavian men and women: short- and long-term effects on arm and leg muscles. Scand J Med Sci Sports 1995; 5: 329–341.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Brown A, McCartney N, Sale DG . Positive adaptations to weight-lifting in the elderly. J Appl Physiol 1990; 69: 1725–1733.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Cartee GD . Aging skeletal muscle: response to exercise. Exerc Sport Sci Rev 1994; 22: 91–120.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Newton RU, Häkkinen K, Häkkinen A, McCormick M, Volek J, Kraemer WJ . Mixed-methods resistance training increases power and strength of young and older men. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2002; 34: 1367–1375.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Sartorio A, Narici MV, Fumagalli E, Faglia G, Lafortuna CL . Aerobic and anaerobic performance before and after a short-term body mass reduction program in obese subjects. Diab Nutr Metab 2001; 14: 51–57.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  30. Duchateau J, Enoka RM . Neural adaptations with chronic activity patterns in able-bodied humans. Am J Phys Med Rehabil 2002; 81: S17–S27.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Schwingshandl J, Borkenstein M . Changes in lean body mass in obese children during a weight reduction program: effect on short term and long term outcome. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1995; 19: 752–755.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  32. Schwingshandl J, Sudi K, Eibl B, Wallner S, Borkenstein M . Effect of an individualised training programme during weight reduction on body composition: a randomised trial. Arch Dis Child 1999; 81: 426–428.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Donnelly JE, Jakicic JM, Pronk N, Smith BK, Kirk EP, Jacobsen DJ, Washburn R . Is resistance training effective for weight management? Evidence-Based Prev Med 2003; 1: 21–29.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


This study is partially supported by Progetto di Ricerca Corrente, Istituto Auxologico Italiano, IRCCS, Milan, Italy. The technical assistance of Mr S Ottolini was greatly appreciated. We are indebted to Drs G Silvestri, A Tibaldi and M Resnik and to Ms F Pera of the 3rd Division of Metabolic Diseases for their qualified assistance during the execution of the test.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to A Sartorio.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Sartorio, A., Lafortuna, C., Agosti, F. et al. Elderly obese women display the greatest improvement in stair climbing performance after a 3-week body mass reduction program. Int J Obes 28, 1097–1104 (2004).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • muscle power
  • stair climbing
  • BMI
  • sarcopenia

Further reading


Quick links