Older men in their 70s and 80s who have never been regular exercisers may have the same ability to build muscle mass as highly trained master athletes of a similar age, according to a new U.K. study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.
The findings show that even those who are entirely new to exercise can benefit from resistance exercises such as weight training.
“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,” says lead researcher Dr. Leigh Breen from the School of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Birmingham in the U.K.
“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.”
For the study, the researchers compared muscle-building ability in two groups of older men in their 70s and 80s. The first group consisted of “master athletes” — lifelong exercisers who were still competing at top levels in their sport. The second group included healthy individuals of a similar age, who had never participated in a structured exercise program.
Each participant was given an isotope tracer in the form of a “heavy” water drink, which would allow the researchers to see how proteins are developing within the muscle. Then each participant took part in a single bout of exercise, involving weight training on an exercise machine.
The researchers took muscle biopsies from participants in the 48-hour periods just before and after the exercise, to see how the muscles were responding to the exercise.
The team had hypothesized that the master athletes would have an increased ability to build muscle due to their superior levels of fitness over a prolonged period of time. However, the results show that both groups had an equal capacity to build muscle in response to exercise.
Breen adds that even daily activities can become part of a strength-training regimen.
“Current public health advice on strength training for older people is often quite vague,” he 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.”
Source: University of Birmingham