Exercise to Keep Aging Muscles Going Strong

Beginning at around age 30 and more rapidly after age 60, muscles lose mass and strength as muscle units weaken and die. Muscle units are comprised of muscle fibers and motor neurons and are crucial to muscle function. Luckily, previous research discovered that, by exercising regularly, adults in their 60s could protect their muscles from this deterioration. But, it was unknown whether this would hold true for people who were decades older.

Now, a study has found evidence that exercising could indeed keep you strong well into your 80s. For the study, which was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology and reported on by the New York Times, researchers recruited a group of 29 world-class athletes in their 80s, and a control group of age-matched, healthy, fairly inactive adults. First, researchers measured both groups’ muscle sizes. Then, they used sensors to measure electrical activity within the participants’ leg muscles during a simple strength exercise, during which the participants pressed their foot against a platform with as much force as they could. Using this data, researchers calculated how many well-functioning muscle units each participant had, and found that:

  • The group of athletes had around 14% more total muscle mass and 28% more well-functioning motor units in their leg muscles than the control group of inactive people.

These findings suggest that exercising throughout life can have lasting benefits for your muscles. However, more research is needed to understand if these findings apply to those with more modest exercise routines, as opposed to the rigorous routines performed by the athletes in this study. In the meantime, it’s important to remember that getting regular moderate-intensity exercise has been found to support the immune system, cardiovascular health, and cognitive function. So, even if you’re not a world-class athlete, exercising is still crucial for world-class health.

Source: New York Times

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