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Life-long exercise could keep muscles, nerves healthy in older age

From the International Council on Active Aging Newsletter

Lifelong physical activity could protect against age-related loss of muscle mass and function, according to recently published research. Individuals ages 68 and above who were physically active throughout their lives had a healthier aging muscle that functions better and is more resistant to fatigue compared to inactive individuals, both young and old. While it's still true that individuals reap benefits no matter when they start exercising, this study can help motivate younger staff and extended family members to stay active now and going forward.

Forty-six men (average age, 73) took part in the study. They were divided into three groups: young sedentary (15), elderly lifelong exercise (16) and elderly sedentary (15). All participants performed a heavy resistance exercise, sitting in a mechanical chair and performing a knee extension movement to evaluate muscle function. The amount of force produced was measured. Blood samples were taken, and muscle biopsies were analyzed from both legs.

Older participants who had kept physically active throughout their adult life, whether by taking part in resistance exercise, ball games, racket sports, swimming, cycling, running and/or rowing had a greater number of muscle stem cells, known as satellite cells, in their muscle. These cells are important for muscle regeneration and long-term growth and protect against nerve decay.

Overall, the researchers found that the older lifelong exercisers outperformed both the elderly and young sedentary adults.

Lead author Casper Soendenbroe of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark commented, "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."

SOURCE: The Physiological Society (March 21, 2022). Soendenbroe C, et al. The Journal of Physiology, 2022; Volume 600; issue 8; April 15; 1969-1989. DOI: 10.1113/JP282677 KEYWORDS: Exercise, Healthspan

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