Lifelong exercise may lower the risk of muscle mass loss in older age, study finds

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Experts say remaining physically active may help protect against nerve decay

Several studies have highlighted the longevity benefits associated with regular exercise, and now a new study conducted by researchers from the Physiological Society explored other health benefits linked with long-term physical activity

According to the findings, consumers who exercised for most of their lives experienced significant improvements to their muscle health. The team found that they were less likely to lose muscle mass and muscle function, and their bodies produced more muscle stem cells; all of these factors are beneficial to long-term muscle regeneration and preventing nerve decay. 

“This is the first study in humans to find that lifelong exercise at a recreational level could delay some detrimental effects of aging,” said researcher Casper Soendenbroe. “Using muscle tissue biopsies, we’ve found positive effects of exercise on the general aging population.” 

Slowing down the aging process

To understand the effect of lifelong exercise, the researchers divided 46 male participants into three groups: elderly sedentary, young sedentary, and elderly lifelong exercise. The researchers analyzed muscle biopsies and blood samples from each of the participants and also had them complete a muscle function test. 

The study showed that those who had exercised for their whole lives had greater muscle health than those who had sedentary lifestyles. Participants who engaged in consistent recreational exercise were less likely to lose muscle mass and muscle function, and they were less likely to experience muscle fatigue. 

The researchers also learned that lifelong exercise helped produce more muscle stem cells, which are important to overall muscle health – especially as consumers age. With more stem cells, the muscles are able to continue growing in older age and are better able to fight off degeneration. Over time, this can also lower the risk of nerve decay. 

It’s important to note that there was no specific kind of exercise that was most successful at boosting participants’ muscle health. Any kind of physical activity proved to be beneficial at slowing the muscular aging process. 

The team hopes these findings encourage consumers to stick with an exercise plan, as there are important long-term benefits to staying active. 

“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,” Soendenbroe said. “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.” 

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