80-year Olds Cannot Increase Their Muscle Mass

Photo: two persons testing their strength by arm wrestling

To be strong in old age, muscles
have to be developed in young
years; © SXC

The pre- and post-training MRIs showed that the training did not change the participants’ muscle size. The results are surprising because previous studies have found resistance training capable of increasing muscle mass, even for people who are into their 70s.

Still, the study contained good news: The octogenarians were able to lift around 26 percent more weight after the training programme, likely because the nervous system became more efficient at activating and synchronising muscles.

The experiment involved six women, all in their 80s, all of whom lived independently and came to the laboratory three times a week for three months. The women exercised on a machine designed to strengthen the thigh (quadriceps) muscle. They did three sets of ten lifts, with a two-minute rest period between sets.

The researchers measured the size of the women’s thigh muscle using an MRI, before the exercise programme began and after it ended. They also took biopsies from the thigh muscles, which they used to track muscle changes at the cellular level.

The biopsy results confirmed the MRI results: there was no change in the size of the individual muscle strands, pre-training versus post-training. This confirms that the increase in the amount the women could lift with the quadriceps was unrelated to improvement in muscle strength.

In an earlier study, the researchers found that the muscles of octogenarian men also failed to gain strength with the exercise programme. “The message of the study is that exercise is good for octogenarians, just not as good as we thought it would be,” researcher Scott Trappe said. The study also suggests that it is better to build as much muscle mass as possible earlier in life to ensure more muscle strength in later life. “We should do all we can to educate people to build up the muscle before 80,” he said.

MEDICA.de; Source: American Physiological Society (APS)