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Get stronger, live longer?

Train to live: can exercise reduce the onset of age related conditions?

With a constantly growing elderly population and people living longer than ever before, the effects of aging and age related diseases are becoming much more prevalent. Issues such as sarcopenia (age related loss of muscle tissue) and osteoporosis (loss of bone density) are somewhat inevitable consequences of ageing (especially if we become sedentary), but what if we could reduce or even prevent them? None of us want to lose muscle and bone strength but for elderly populations who are at risk of falling these can be potentially life altering conditions which lead to a loss of mobility, independence and social life.

Since Sarcopenia is essentially a slowing down of protein synthesis and reduced ability to grow and repair muscle tissue, it is logical to assume that regular exercise and sufficient dietary protein intake will help to reduce or even prevent this condition. A recent review article by McLeod, Breen, Hamilton, & Philp (2016), set out to answer this very question. They highlighted that the elderly tend to have a less sensitive response to low levels of protein, and that to maximize Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) a higher dietary intake of protein is required in these individuals. This is a major consideration since many people in this bracket already consume less that the recommended amount and tend to do so in an erratic daily pattern (Tieland, den Berg, van Loon, & de Groot, 2012).

As well as consuming sufficient protein to fuel muscular growth and repair, we also need to ensure this process is stimulated by regular exercise. McLeod et al., (2016) highlight that the onset of Sarcopenia is often correlated with a reduction in physical activity and sedentary behaviour, as is often seen in older populations, particularly following life events such as childbirth, retirement or a significant injury. Even short periods of bed rest can lead to significant losses in lower body strength and a lower level of physical activity afterwards (Kortebein et al., 2008). Regular resistance exercise is well known to stimulate MPS and muscle growth, and despite the reduced anabolic ability of Sarcopenia suffers, keeping up a regular training routine can and will help promote maintenance of muscle tissue, even in elderly populations.

These benefits have been shown even with very elderly populations. A Study by Fiatarone et al., (1994)demonstrated a reduction in muscular weakness and frailty following a high intensity resistance training intervention in a group aged between 72 and 98 years old!

Clearly then maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle is a key factor when it comes to healthy ageing, and older populations should actively pursue well structured physical training to maintain muscle mass, protect bone density and prevent the onset of age related conditions.


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Fiatarone, M. A., O’Neill, E. F., Ryan, N. D., Clements, K. M., Solares, G. R., Nelson, M. E., … Evans, W. J. (1994). Exercise Training and Nutritional Supplementation for Physical Frailty in Very Elderly People. New England Journal of Medicine, 330, 1769–1775.

Kortebein, P., Symons, T. B., Ferrando, A., Paddon-Jones, D., Ronsen, O., Protas, E., … Evans, W. J. (2008). Functional Impact of 10 Days of Bed Rest in Healthy Older Adults. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences , 63, 1076–1081.

McLeod, M., Breen, L., Hamilton, D. L., & Philp, A. (2016). Live strong and prosper: the importance of skeletal muscle strength for healthy ageing. Biogerontology, 17, 497–510.

Tieland, M., den Berg, K. J., van Loon, L. J. C., & de Groot, L. C. P. G. M. (2012). Dietary protein intake in community-dwelling, frail, and institutionalized elderly people: scope for improvement. European Journal of Nutrition, 51, 173–179.

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