Importantly, the research also found evidence that aging muscles need to be kept in shape, because long periods of atrophy are more challenging to overcome. Older muscles do not respond as well to sudden bouts of exercise. And rather than building muscle, older people can instead generate scar tissue if they exercise after long periods of inactivity.
Previous studies have shown that adult muscle stem cells have a receptor called Notch, which triggers growth when activated. An enzyme called mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) regulates Notch activity.
In the lab, the researchers cultured old human muscle and forced the activation of MAPK. The regenerative ability of the old muscle was significantly enhanced.
It may seem like common sense that if you don’t use your muscles, eventually they’ll atrophy away, yet so many people don’t take heed.
Many believe that cardiovascular training is the ticket to staying in shape, and I certainly wouldn’t blame them as I fell into that trap for over 30 years. It was only after 40 years of running as my exclusive form of exercise that I saw the light and started to open my horizons with respect to exercise.
I learned that cardio is only one aspect of fitness.
Now, at 55 I am the fittest I have ever been in my life. I certainly could run faster when I was younger (2:50 marathon) but I would never trade that to have the muscle strength, flexibility and proprioceptive balance that a far more comprehensive program provides.
This research cited in this study emphasizes the need to keep your muscles in shape as you age, because long periods of muscle atrophy are more challenging to overcome. They also found that older muscles do not respond well to sudden bouts of exercise, so the key is to work out your muscles on a regular basis throughout your life.
The study found that younger muscle tissues had as much as four times more regenerative stem cells compared to old muscle. The authors noted that:
"Two weeks of immobilization only mildly affected young muscle, in terms of tissue maintenance and functionality, whereas old muscle began to atrophy and manifest signs of rapid tissue deterioration.”
So the take-home message is: the older you are, the faster your muscles begin to atrophy if you are not engaging in some form of strength training exercise on a regular basis.
Don’t Wait for a Miracle Drug – Most People Can Easily Prevent Muscle Atrophy on Their Own
According to the researchers:
"Our study shows that the ability of old human muscle to be maintained and repaired by muscle stem cells can be restored to youthful vigor given the right mix of biochemical signals.
This provides promising new targets for forestalling the debilitating muscle atrophy that accompanies aging, and perhaps other tissue degenerative disorders as well."
It should come as no surprise that this study was done in order to eventually be able to formulate a pill to stop muscle atrophy in its tracks. But by now you probably know as well as I do that such a drug would is virtually guaranteed to cause more problems than it would solve.
The fact is, most people would never need such a drug.
If you are at all able to move, you can do much to prevent muscle atrophy by incorporating strength training into your healthy lifestyle routine; starting gently and working at a pace that is appropriate for your age and current level of fitness.
Also keep in mind that if you are older, and have been either sedentary or immobile for some time, suddenly exercising vigorously can cause scarring and inflammation of your muscles, so start off slowly and gently!
That said, I believe it’s never too late to start up an exercise regimen. You just need to be sensible in your approach.
Getting professional help from a properly educated personal trainer or physical therapist is probably the wisest and safest way to go if you are new to exercise, or have not exercised in the last couple of years.
How to Prevent and Reverse Muscle Wasting
In addition to the biochemical reactions discussed in the article above, focusing mainly on the reduced regenerative action of stem cells in aging muscle, other research has found that as you age, your body also becomes increasingly less able to use the protein in your food for building muscle. And protein is essential for healthy muscle growth and maintenance.
In addition, in seniors, insulin no longer prevents the muscle breakdown between meals and overnight as it normally does in younger subjects.
This double-whammy adds up to significant muscle wasting in sedentary seniors.
Another important factor may be poor blood supply, as this could prevent proper delivery of nutrients and hormones to your muscles. Fortunately, exercise is the natural remedy for this problem as well.
Additional Benefits of Strength Training as You Age
Maintaining healthy muscle mass is not the only benefit you can reap from a regular exercise program that includes strength training.
Preventing heart disease and osteoporosis are two other major benefits.
A key strategy to reduce your risk of heart disease (and a host of other chronic diseases), is to keep your inflammation levels low, and avoiding visceral fat is part of this equation.
Visceral fat is the fat that shows up in your abdomen, surrounding your vital organs including your liver, heart and muscles. Exercise is a critical component for reducing heart disease risk because it both lowers inflammation in your body, and is one of the best weapons against visceral fat.
How does it work?
The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn because they consume calories around the clock, even when you’re resting and sleeping. So, as you gain more muscle, your body naturally increases the amount of calories burned each day, which reduces fat stores.
As for lowering inflammation, physical exercise accomplishes this naturally by lowering levels of a C-reactive protein (CRP) that is linked to inflammation.
High levels of CRP in your body is associated with a higher than average risk of cardiovascular disease, and has even been suggested as a better indicator of possible heart attack than high cholesterol.
How Strength Training Reduces Osteoporosis
Weight-bearing exercise is one of the most effective remedies against osteoporosis.
The last thing you want to consider is to take a drug to improve your bone density, as without question, that is more likely to cause long-term harm than benefit.
Your bones are actually very porous and soft, and as you get older, your bones can easily become less dense and hence, more brittle. Especially if you are inactive.
Resistance training can combat this effect because as you put more tension on your muscles it puts more pressure on your bones, which then respond by continuously creating fresh, new bone.
In addition, as you build more muscle, and make the muscle that you already have stronger, you also put more constant pressure on your bones.
Nutritional Support for Muscles
When you are training your muscles it is important to understand that this is somewhat of a destructive process, so it’s important to provide your body with a fuel to help accommodate for the repair and recovery process.
Ideally you would have a high absorbable form of protein within 15 minutes or so after finishing your exercise.
High quality grass-fed organic whey protein seems to provide a nearly ideal source of fuel after you exercise. I have adjusted my exercise program so that in the morning, before breakfast, and shortly after I complete it, I have a Miracle Whey Protein drink that I combine with a number of other ingredients to improve the nutrition ever more. I made a video about this that I will post shortly.
It’s Never Too Late to Improve Your Health
Keep in mind that optimal health is dependent on an active lifestyle; eating fresh, whole foods, avoiding as many processed foods as possible, and addressing the stress in your life.
Ignoring any of these basic tenets of health will eventually lead to a decline in health and any number of diseases.
So start moving, and don’t stop no matter what your age!
And do include strength training into your fitness routine. It is the number one way for you to remain strong, young, and independent well into old age.
A Call for Experts Fitness Advisory Panel for My New Fitness Site
Some of you may already know this, but I’m in the process of developing a web site dedicated to fitness. And, as one of my readers suggested in a previous article, I am looking for a range of fitness experts to help me make it the best it can be.
So if you have a passion for fitness and are a well trained professional such as a Sports Orthopedist, Chiropractor, Podiatrist, PM&R MD. or Physical Therapist please contact us to participate on the panel.
This advisory panel will be selected to review materials produced on this new site to confirm that it is accurate and unlikely to cause any harm or damage to those who engage in the recommended exercises. All those selected will be prominently featured on our site.