Exercising as a child can prevent muscle weakening condition during old age

TOKYO, Japan — During adolescence, muscle function usually increases. As we continue to age however, it starts to go down. Sarcopenia, a type of muscle weakening, is a serious concern for older adults. Researchers from Juntendo University in Japan have now found that building an exercise habit during childhood may prevent the onset of this condition later in life.

“Preventing sarcopenia is an important strategy for preventing disability and the need for long-term care in the older age. By establishing the association, we can move one step closer to reducing risk factors of sarcopenia in older Japanese adults,” explains team leader Professor Yoshifumi Tamura from the Faculty of International Liberal Arts at Juntendo University.

The researchers assessed the exercise habits of 1,607 Japanese adults (679 men and 928 women), between the ages of 65 and 84, as part of the “Bunkyo Health Study.” The participants completed a health exam that included their skeletal muscle index, handgrip strength, as well as gait speed. The researchers divided participants into four groups: no exercise in either period, exercise only during adolescence, exercise only during older age, and exercise during both periods. They also measured low muscle performance according to low muscle strength and/or low gait speed.

Results show that 6.6 percent of the men and 1.7 percent of the women had sarcopenia. Low muscle mass was present in 14.3 percent of the men and 5.2 percent of the women, while low muscle performance was common among a quarter of the men and one in five women. Additionally, in men, the odds of having sarcopenia, low muscle mass, and low muscle performance were lower in those that exercised as both adolescents and older adults. For women, the same association was seen, but only for low muscle performance.

Scroll down to read about the 6 biggest problems older adults with weak muscles face

Older man jogging and running on treadmill
(© Svitlana – stock.adobe.com)

“We would like to emphasize that exercising not only during old age but also during adolescence, i.e., junior and high school, may influence the maintenance of skeletal muscle function in old age,” says Prof. Tamura in a media release.

“By creating the awareness that inculcating the habit of exercising during adolescence, people can prevent several problems in their older ages. In the long run, exercising during adolescence has the potential to improve the quality of life of the older adults by providing maintenance of their skeletal muscle function.”

Tamura and his team are excited to shed light on the importance of exercise, no matter your age. They hope their work urges younger people in Japan to move their bodies more in order to lower their risk of sarcopenic complications, which Asians with lower body mass indexes (BMI) are more likely to have.

The findings are published in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle.

What are the dangers of muscle weakness during old age?

Muscle weakness during old age can lead to various health risks and negatively impact an individual’s quality of life.

  1. Increased risk of falls: Muscle weakness can cause balance issues, making older adults more prone to falls. Falls are a leading cause of injury and hospitalization in this age group and can result in fractures, head injuries, and other complications.
  2. Reduced mobility and independence: Weakened muscles can make it difficult for older adults to perform daily activities, such as walking, climbing stairs, or getting up from a chair. This can lead to a loss of independence and an increased reliance on caregivers or assistive devices.
  3. Frailty: Muscle weakness can contribute to frailty, a condition characterized by reduced strength, endurance, and physiological function. Frail individuals are at higher risk for adverse health outcomes, including disability, hospitalization, and death.
  4. Osteoporosis: Weak muscles can accelerate bone loss, contributing to osteoporosis and an increased risk of fractures.
  5. Metabolic disorders: Muscle loss can lead to a decreased metabolic rate, which can contribute to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
  6. Increased healthcare costs: The complications associated with muscle weakness can lead to more frequent hospitalizations and medical interventions, resulting in higher healthcare costs.

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