2019 Study: It’s Never Too Late to Start Strength Training and Exercise
Author: George Barker
An August 2019 study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology has found that there appears to be no upper age limit to improving fitness levels and muscle gain. This new information is increasingly important as the UKs aging population expands, with the Office for National Statistics predicting 23 million, or over 30% of people in the UK being aged 60 or over by the year 2050 (5).
It has long been thought that as we age, there is an impaired ability for the body to respond to exercise and promote muscle growth. This leads to a progressive loss of skeletal muscle, in a process termed “sarcopenia” (6). Highly active older individuals who have maintained structured exercise training habits (often called ‘masters athletes’) display superior markers of physiological function in relation to their VO2 Max, strength levels, muscle morphology, and usually have more favourable body composition than their untrained age-matched counterparts (3,1,2). Life-long adherence to sport and exercise is generally the best course of action. However, if that isn’t you, all hope is not lost!
The researchers from Birmingham University split participants into two groups, ‘masters athletes’ (as described above), and healthy individuals of a similar age, who had never participated in structured exercise programmes. Each participant was then given an isotope tracker, in the form of a drink of ‘heavy’ water, which was used to track protein development in the muscles. On a subsequent testing day, participants then took part in a 6 sets of 10 repetitions of a leg extension exercise at 75% of their predetermined one repetition maximum (3).
It was expected that masters athletes would possess an increased ability to build muscle due to their higher fitness levels developed over a long period of time. However, the results found that both groups had an equal capacity to build muscle in response to exercise. Whilst the sample size was limited, the results suggest that muscle protein synthesis is indistinguishable between trained and untrained older individuals. Importantly, it shows that untrained individuals are able to stimulate muscle growth.
The lead researcher Dr. Leigh Breen had this to say: “Our study clearly shows that it doesn’t matter if you haven’t been a regular exerciser throughout your life, you can still derive benefit from exercise whenever you start. Obviously a long term commitment to good health and exercise is the best approach to achieve whole-body health, but even starting later on in life will help delay age-related frailty and muscle weakness.”
“Current public health advice on strength training for older people is often quite vague. What’s needed is more specific guidance on how individuals can improve their muscle strength, even outside of a gym-setting through activities undertaken in their homes – activities such as gardening, walking up and down stairs, or lifting up a shopping bag can all help if undertaken as part of a regular exercise regime” (4).
So there you have it. Improving your health, fitness and strength levels is possible at any age, and now is the best time to start!
Stay Strong and Move Well,
- McKendry, J., Breen, L., Shad, B. J., and Greig, C. A. (2018). Muscle morphology and performance in master athletes: a systematic review and meta-analyses. Ageing Research Reviews. 45, pp. 62-82.
- McKendry, J., Joanisse, S., Baig, S., Liu, B., Parise, G., Greig, C. A., et al. (2019). Superior aerobic capacity and indices of skeletal muscle morphology in chronically trained master endurance athletes compared with untrained older adults. Journals of Gerontology Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, Available from: doi: 10.1093/gerona/glz142 [Epub ahead of print].
- McKendry, J., Shad, B.J., Smeuninx, B., Oikawa, S.Y., Wallis, G., Greif, C., Phillips, S.M., Breen, L. (2019) Comparable Rates of Integrated Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis Between Endurance-Trained Master Athletes and Untrained Older Individuals. Frontiers in Physiology, Available from: https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2019.01084
- Mindzilla (2019) New Study Shows It’s Never Too Late to Start Exercising [Internet]. Available from: https://mindzilla.com/newsroom/health/31281/20190830-new-study-shows-its-never-too-late-to-start-exercising/ [Accessed 08/09/19].
- Office for National Statistics: Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk
- Rosenberg, I.H. (1989). Epidemiologic and methodologic problems in determining nutritional-status of older persons – Proceedings of a conference held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, October 19-21, 1988 – Summary comments. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 50, pp. 1231–1233.