How you exercise into a ripe old age

Health & Fitness

How you exercise into a ripe old age


Summary

  • A new study published in the Journal of Physiology indicates that life-long physical activity could protect against age-related loss of muscle mass and function.
  • Individuals aged 68 and above who were physically active throughout their life have healthier ageing muscles with superior function and are more resistant to fatigue.
  • Research indicates that after the age of 30, people usually begin to lose as much as three percent to five percent of their muscle per decade.

It is everyone’s dream to live a healthy and long life, so as to be able to enjoy the different stages of life.

Aside from embracing healthy diets, research indicates that physical activity or exercises can go a long way in tackling the effects of ageing which adversely affects people’s quality of life as they grow older.

Indeed, a new study published in the Journal of Physiology indicates that life-long physical activity could protect against age-related loss of muscle mass and function.

Individuals aged 68 and above who were physically active throughout their life have healthier ageing muscles with superior function and are more resistant to fatigue compared to inactive individuals, both young and old, the study reveals.

The results show that elderly individuals who keep physically active throughout their adult life – whether by taking part in resistance exercise, ball games, racket sports, swimming, cycling, running or rowing – have a greater number of muscle stem cells (also known as satellite cells) in their muscle.

These cells are important for muscle regeneration and long-term growth. They also offer protection against nerve decay.

Age-related muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia, is a natural part of ageing. Research indicates that after the age of 30, people usually begin to lose as much as three percent to five percent of their muscle per decade.

Less muscle eventually leads to greater weakness and less mobility, both of which increases people’s risk of falls and fractures. Indeed, a 2015 report from the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research found that people with sarcopenia had 2.3 times the risk of having a low-trauma fracture from a fall, such as a broken hip, collarbone, leg, arm, or wrist.

The weakness and loss of stamina associated with muscle weakness dissuades people from exercising. Yet, reduced physical activity further shrinks muscle mass, making the problem worse.

The new study involved 46 male participants. They were divided into three groups: young sedentary (15), elderly life-long exercise (16) and elderly sedentary (15).

All of them were asked to perform a heavy resistance exercise. This involved sitting on a mechanical chair and performing a knee extension movement that helped the researchers to evaluate their muscle function.

At the end of the study, the researchers found that elderly lifelong exercisers outperformed both the elderly and young sedentary adults.

According to the researchers, the new study is the first to investigate muscle, stem cell and nerve activity in people.

“This is the first study in humans to find that lifelong exercise at a recreational level could delay some detrimental effects of ageing. Using muscle tissue biopsies, we’ve found positive effects of exercise on the general ageing population. This has been missing from the literature as previous studies have mostly focused on master athletes, which is a minority group,” noted Dr Casper Soendenbroe, the lead author of the study from the University of Copenhagen, based in Denmark.

He stated that this particular study was more representative of the general population aged 60 and above since the average person is more likely to take part in a mixture of activities at a moderate level.

“That’s why we wanted to explore the relationship between stem cells and muscle health in recreationally active individuals. We can now use this as a biomarker to further investigate the link between exercise, ageing and muscle health,” said Dr Soendenbroe.

“The single most important message from this study, is that even a little exercise seems to go a long way, when it comes to protecting against the age-related decline in muscle function. This is an encouraging finding which can hopefully spur more people to engage in an activity that they enjoy. We still have much to learn about the mechanisms and interactions between nerves and muscles and how these change as we age. Our research takes us one step closer.”

Even though the study demonstrated the impact of lifelong exercises on muscle health, the researchers noted that it is never too late for people to embrace an active lifestyle. Individuals who begin the fitness journey, they note, usually start harnessing muscle health benefits that go a long way in improving their quality of life and strength.

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