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April 14, 2005

Exercise Keeps Aging Muscles Energized

We used to think that all people lost muscle mass and strength after age 30. Then we learned we were looking at skewed statistics. Turns out we can in fact increase our strength and muscle mass well beyond age 30. How did we miss this? The loss of strength and muscle mass was more related to reduced physical activity rather than age.

We were studying people who on average had abandoned the physical activities they did in their youth. Problem is, this "you're done after age 30" conclusion did not explain those in their 30's, 40's, and even into their 70's and 80's who seemed to buck this trend sporting the strength and physique expected only prior to age 30.

Were these super humans? Did they get randomly blessed with a super gene? No.. They exercise.

It does remain true that age does decrease the total gains we can make, and the rate we can improve, but for the most part there is no reason why someone in their 40's and 50's can't be comparably fit to someone in their 20's, and no reason why a person over age 60 can't be very, very fit.

New research has interesting parallels to the lose muscle mass after age 30 theory. It has been found that as we age our muscles ability to make energy reduces due to deterioration of mitochondria - tiny globular structures inside muscles that make ATP, the only energy compound our muscle cells can use.

But wait; can't we use fat and carbohydrates as energy? Yes, but these compounds are converted into ATP by the mitochondria. Less mitochondria means less ability to make fats and sugars (carbohydrates) into ATP - the fuel for our muscles.

Here are pictures of mitochondria under a microscope. Inside the mitochondria are specific protein enzymes that convert fats or sugars into ATP.

Mitochondria (stained red) In Proximity To Muscle Fibers (blue)

Turns out the only thing that can be done to continue to build mitochondria as we age is, you guessed it; exercise. Researchers will now look to creating a drug or medical treatment that could combat loss of mitochondria. This type of genetic research and capability is important to develop for the sake of humanity, but don't hold your breath waiting for a "fit pill". Should a treatment be devised it will most likely be used to fight illness. Want to increase your mitochondria? Just exercise, your DNA will automatically respond and synthesize more mitochondria.

Having less mitochondria is one of the reasons why an unfit person cannot possibly do what a fit person can, not even if they have steely will power. Fit persons have more mitochondria than unfit persons. A fit person can make more energy faster than an unfit person. The unfit person can't make fuel as fast and can't compete. But of course all the unfit person needs to do to even the odds is exercise. They will then make more mitochondria and become fit. Every human being has the innate ability to become more fit, while this ability does decrease slightly after age 30, it isn't enough to interfere with fitness gains, or high performance fitness. There is a limit of course, we're not going to compete at the Olympics at age 80, but age by its self is not enough to prevent us from being fit and strong through our 70's and 80's.

Conclusions? If you're out of shape don't blame your age, blame your lack of activity.

Go here for more info on exercise and aging National Institute on Aging

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2004 - 2005 Cris LaBossiere Rhino Fitness www.rhinofitness.ca



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