(This is part 11 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)
According to an interesting new study, regular exercise throughout adulthood may protect our muscles against age-related loss and damage later. The study finds that active older men’s muscles resemble, at a cellular level, those of 25-year-olds and weather inflammatory damage much better than the muscles of sedentary older people. The study also raises some cautionary questions about whether waiting until middle age or later to start exercising might prove to be challenging for the lifelong health of our muscles.
Physical aging is a complicated process, as any of us who are living and experiencing it know. Precipitated by little-understood changes in the workings of our cells and physiological systems, it proceeds in stuttering fits and starts, affecting some people and body parts earlier or more noticeably than others. Muscles are among the body parts most vulnerable to time. Almost all of us begin losing some muscle mass and strength by early middle age, with the process accelerating as the decades pass. While the full causes for this decline remain unknown, most aging researchers agree that a subtle, age-related rise in inflammation throughout our bodies plays a role. “A lot of studies show that higher circulating inflammatory factors in people are associated with greater loss of muscle mass,” says Todd Trappe, a professor of exercise science at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., who oversaw the new study. Since it was already widely accepted that physically fit people tend to have lower levels of inflammation in their bodies than inactive people. So, the researchers wondered, would active, older people also have more and healthier muscle mass than other older people? And if so, what might that tell us about how human muscles can optimally age?
Some Profound Results
In the study, it was noted immediately that the men’s thigh circumference reflected their ages and lifestyles, with the young athletes sporting the burliest legs, the elderly athletes slightly smaller ones, and the inactive elderly men the spindliest. The researchers found that inflammatory responses differed in the men. The young athletes displayed the least amount of inflammation in their blood and muscles at the start of the study and continued to do so after the workout. While their muscles flared briefly after exercise with inflammatory cells and related gene activity, the microscopic examination found that countervailing anti-inflammatory signals were also increasing and should soon cool the inflammation. A similar response occurred inside the muscles of the elderly athletes, although their inflammatory markers were slightly higher and their anti-inflammatory reactions a bit lower. But in the untrained elderly men, inflammation was much more of a bushfire, spiking higher than among the other men and showing fewer cellular signs of resolving any time soon. Taken as a whole, these results suggest that long-term exercise may help aging muscles remain healthy in part by readying them to dissipate inflammation. But on the flip side, sedentary living seems to set up muscles to overreact to strain and remain inflamed, potentially leading to fewer muscular gains when someone does exercise. More important, the findings should not discourage middle-aged or older people who have been inactive from starting to visit the gym. Even if inflammation gets in the way a bit at first, your muscles will respond and grow and eventually should start to resemble those of people who have been exercising lifelong.
Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.
See you tomorrow for the conclusion of the 12 Days of Fitness
Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:
Day #1 – 7 Ways to Stop Overeating Forever
Day #2 – Sleep Facts That May Surprise You
Day #3 – Why Losing Weight Through Exercise is Hard
Day #4 – You Are Never Too Old to Exercise
Day #5 – 6 Ways to Adopting a New Habit
Day #6 – The Real Science Behind Fascia
Day #7 – 5 Ways to Improve Eating Habits Without Counting Calories
Day #8 – How Age Affects Workout Recovery
Day #9 – Fitness and Nutrition Tips From the Healthiest Countries
Day #10 – 5 Bodyweight Exercises That You Can Do Right Now