New research into weight lifting has revealed two insights, one, the practice is able to strengthen the connections between nerves and muscles, and that this strengthening can still happen in the later years of our lives.
Before the age of 40, we really begin to lose muscle mass, which is partly due to a decline in muscle fibres brought on by the degeneration of motor neurons, which are the cells in the brain and spinal cord that direct our bodies to move.
The latest study demonstrates that while this decline cannot be reversed, it can be greatly slowed down. The findings of the study suggest that weight training strengthens the connections between muscles and nerves, thereby defending the motor neurons in the spinal cord, which are crucial for a healthy body.
Casper Sonenbroe, exercise physiologist ,from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark said “Previously, researchers have been unable to prove that weight training can strengthen the connection between the motor neurons and the muscles. Our study is the first to present findings suggesting that this is indeed the case”.The research has been published in the American Journal of Physiology: Cell Physiology
The research involved 38 healthy, elderly men with an average age of 72, who were asked to undertake a 16-week course of fairly intensive weight lifting training involving leg presses, leg extensions, leg curls, and two upper arm exercises. Another group of 20 healthy, elderly men, again with an average age of 72, did no weight training and were used as a control comparison.
Weight training sessions happened three times a week, and after two months (halfway through the experiment), the differences in muscle size and fitness could be seen. Researchers collected muscle biopsies and found detectable changes in the biomarkers.
Although this study was done in men, this applies to women, too, for example, older women, who are more prone to osteoporosis, benefit from resistance training just as much as men do.
As many populations around the world continue to live longer and longer, the issue of preserving a good quality of life in our twilight years becomes more and more important – and that includes keeping muscles working as well as possible.
While there are certain biological processes that cannot be stopped as the years go by, research has shown that diet, as well as exercise, can protect against some of the damage that old age can leave us vulnerable to.
Sondenbroe said that “Now we need to determine which specific mechanisms cause weight training to strengthen the connection to the nervous system, adding to do that, we need to introduce different methods, though our goal continues to be to make sure as many senior citizens as possible not only live longer, but also experience well-being.”