Secret to eternal youth: Lifelong exercise keeps the muscles from aging

‘The single most important message from this study, is that even a little exercise seems to go a long way.’

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The secret to staying young may be keeping your muscles in motion throughout your life. Researchers from the University of Copenhagen found that older adults who stay physically active had muscles that were more resistant to fatigue and had more stem cells which regenerate their function.

The team says this is the first study to examine muscle, stem cell, and nerve activity in humans. They studied 46 older men with an average age of 73 who fell into one of three categories: young sedentary males (15), elderly lifelong exercise (16), and elderly sedentary (15).

The elderly participants who regularly stayed active through resistance exercise, ball games, racket sports, swimming, cycling, running, or rowing had a higher number of muscle stem cells in their bodies. Also called satellite cells, they play a major role in muscle regeneration, muscle growth, and protect against nerve degradation.

Old but active beats out young and inactive

During the study, each participant engaged in a resistance exercise, using a mechanical chair to perform knee extensions. Study authors measured the force each man produced before taking blood samples and muscle biopsies from both legs. Results revealed that the elderly lifelong exercisers outperformed both groups of sedentary men.

“This is the first study in humans to find that lifelong exercise at a recreational level could delay some detrimental effects of aging. Using muscle tissue biopsies, we’ve found positive effects of exercise on the general aging population. This has been missing from the literature as previous studies have mostly focused on master athletes, which is a minority group,” says lead author Casper Soendenbroe in a media release.

“Our study is more representative of the general population aged 60 and above, as the average person is more likely to take part in a mixture of activities at a moderate level. That’s why we wanted to explore the relation between satellite cell content and muscle health in recreationally active individuals. We can now use this as a biomarker to further investigate the link between exercise, aging and muscle health.”

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“The single most important message from this study, is that even a little exercise seems to go a long way, when it comes to protecting against the age-related decline in muscle function. This is an encouraging finding which can hopefully spur more people to engage in an activity that they enjoy. We still have much to learn about the mechanisms and interactions between nerves and muscles and how these change as we age. Our research takes us one step closer,” the researcher concludes.

Study authors note that they still have to examine the impact of lifelong exercise on people over 80. Future studies also need to look at the relationship between recreational activity and muscle health among women.

The findings are published in The Journal of Physiology.