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Friday, October 2, 2009

Aging Muscles

As we age we experience a loss of skeletal muscle tissue. Although the mechanisms responsible for this loss have been poorly understood the results are plain to see. There is a reduction in lean body mass, decreased strength and decreased endurance. The loss of muscle mass beyond the age of 50 seems to be about a half a percent per year so every decade beyond 50 you will likely lose about 5% of your muscle tissue.

Two new articles have shed light on this process and have begun to provide solutions on how to minimize and prevent muscle loss. Researchers at the University of Nottingham have discovered a reduction in the rate of blood flow to muscles of individuals in their late 60's compared to people in their mid 20's. According to these scientists this loss of circulation prevents necessary nutrients and the hormone insulin from reaching the target muscles preventing their repair and hastening their degeneration. The researchers have proposed weight training as a treatment to help restore normal blood flow of nutrients and insulin to repair the muscle tissue. This sounds like good advice, it's straightforward and also helps to maintain bone density.

While this strategy will work in younger people, rehabilitation of the elderly is more complicated. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have found that immobility of the legs for two weeks and then weight training the thigh muscles of people in their 20's compared to people in their late 60's and early 70's differed significantly. The muscle tissue of the younger population was only mildly affected by the immobiity and recovered very quickly. The thigh muscles in the older population showed greater weakness and rapid deterioration.

There were far fewer of the cells responsible for tissue repair and regeneration in the muscle of the elderly population. The attempt to exercise by the elderly population in order to rebuild the lost muscle tissue was also impeded by the fact that too intense of an exercise program triggered the production of scar tissue and inflammation instead of muscle repair. This is why I spend so much time instructing and reviewing the exercise and rehabilitation programs of the people I care for.

Both of these articles stress the need to continue exercising throughout your lifetime. Regular rhythmic aerobic exercise is critical to maintaining cardiovascular health and the health and density of the arteries and capillaries in your arms and legs assuring optimal blood flow and nutrient delivery.A lifetime of regular exercise helps maintain the protein content and density of skeletal muscle. Diet is also an important factor.

This research has pointed the way toward a future medical intervention that may reverse the muscle aging process in humans but that is likely several years away. The bottom line is to commit to a lifetime of regular moderate exercise. Prevention is the best treatment.

3:59 pm pdt          Comments

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