Older people who have never taken part in exercise programmes have the same ability to build muscle mass as highly trained master athletes of a similar age, researchers have found.
“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.
“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,” study lead researcher Leigh Breen from the University of Birmingham said.
The study, published in Frontiers in Physiology, compared muscle-building ability in two groups of older men. The first group was classed as ‘master athletes’ with seven people in their 70s and 80s who are lifelong exercisers and still competing at top levels in their sport.
In the second group, eight were healthy individuals of a similar age, who had never participated in structured exercise programmes.
Each participant was given an isotope tracer, in the form of a drink of ‘heavy’ water and then 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 just after the exercise and examined these to look for signs of how the muscles were responding to the exercise.
The isotope tracer showed how proteins were developing within the muscle.
The researchers had expected that the master athletes would have an increased ability to build muscle due to their superior levels of fitness over a prolonged time, but the results showed that both groups had an equal capacity to build muscle in response to exercise.