New research from the University of Birmingham’s School of Sport and Exercise Science in England, has shown that older people who do not take part in sustained exercise regimes are able to build muscle as easily as highly-trained athletes of a similar age.
The study, published in the journal “Frontiers in Physiology”, compared the muscle-building ability in two groups of older men. The first group were labelled as “master athletes” and comprised of people in their 70’s and 80’s who have exercised for many years and still compete at the top levels of their sport. The second group comprised of healthy individuals of a similar age, who had never participated in a structured exercise regime before.
Each participant was given an isotope tracer, in the form of a drink of ‘heavy’ water, and then proceeded to complete a round of exercise, involving weight training. The researchers took muscle biopsies from the muscle tissue of each participant in the 48 hours before and after the exercise, and examined the data to look for signs of how the muscles were responding to the exercise. The isotope tracer showed exactly how proteins were developing.
The researchers had expected that the first group of “master athletes” would have an increased ability to build muscle due to their superior levels of fitness over a prolonged period of time. The results showed that both group actually had an equal ability to build muscle in response to exercise.
“Our study clearly shows that it doesn’t matter if you haven’t been a regular exerciser throughout your life, you can still derive benefit from exercise whenever you start,” said Dr Leigh Breen, the lead researcher. “Obviously a long term commitment to good health and exercise is the best approach to achieve whole-body health, but even starting later on in life will help delay age-related frailty and muscle weakness.
“Current public health advice on strength training for older people is often quite vague,” Breen said. “What’s needed is more specific guidance on how individuals can improve their muscle strength, even outside of a gym-setting through activities undertaken in their homes – activities such as gardening, walking up and down stairs, or lifting up a shopping bag can all help if undertaken as part of a regular exercise regime.”