Lifelong physical activity could protect against age-related loss of muscle mass and function, according to research published in The Journal of Physiology. Individuals aged 68 and above who were physically active throughout their life have healthier ageing muscle that has superior function and is more resistant to fatigue compared to inactive individuals, both young and old.
This is the first study to investigate muscle, stem cell and nerve activity in humans. The researchers found 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 and/or rowing had a greater number of muscle stem cells, otherwise known as satellite cells in their muscle. These cells are important for muscle regeneration and long-term growth and protect against nerve decay.
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, researchers found positive effects of exercise on the general ageing population. The study is more representative of the general population aged 60 and above, as the average person is more likely to take part in a mixture of activities at a moderate level. That’s why researchers wanted to explore the relation between satellite cell content and muscle health in recreationally active individuals. Now this study can now be used as a biomarker to further investigate the link between exercise, ageing and muscle health.
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 and keeping us feeling young. 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.
It is worth noting that the study was only carried out in males and the average age was 73. As the effects of ageing on muscle health become more pronounced at 80+ years, follow up studies are needed to see if the benefits of lifelong exercise are maintained later in life. Further, investigation on recreational activity and muscle health need to be carried out in females.