Diminishing strength

Dec 16, 2011 by

The amazing strength of rock climbers

Keeping fit is crucial to ageing well and feeling young, or at least younger! However, if we are of a competitive nature and find motivation in competing then we cannot help but notice the inexorable decline in our performance.

I used to cycle a lot and as part of my keeping fit regime I would attend a weekly ‘spin’ class when we all ‘spun’ our wheels on stationary bikes. The instructor would really make us ramp it up during this session but I could never get onto the bigger gears. I just couldn’t seem to get the power in my legs. What I discovered was that I could significantly improve my endurance and cycle further and further but try as I might I found it very hard to get any faster. So I decided to try and find out why and discovered that older people :
• lose muscle mass
• have more scarring and inflammatory responses in their muscle tissue
• are less able to regenerate new muscle.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkley have been doing research into how ageing affects muscle regeneration and have discovered the key biochemical signals that trigger muscle regeneration. These biochemical signals trigger adult stem cells to repair and regenerate muscle tissue. Moreover, they have discovered that even old muscle can be regenerated and repaired if it receives these ‘right’ biochemical signals.

The research they carried out required two weeks of muscle immobilisation to measure the effect on young versus old muscle. Scarily the older subjects experienced much more rapid tissue deterioration due to immobility compared to the younger subjects.** After the immobilisation period the subjects took part in weight training regime to build up the muscle again. The research showed there were half as many adult stem cells repairing muscle tissue in the older subject’s muscle compared the younger subjects. This difference was even more pronounced during the exercise phase of the research with younger tissue having four times as many stem cells repairing worn tissue compared with the older subjects whose muscle stem cells remained inactive.

The research is significant because it discovered the biochemical pathways needed to stimulate repair and regeneration of muscle cells. The research also discovered that this biochemical signal could be turned ‘off’ to inhibit muscle repair in young people and could be turned ‘on’ to significantly enhance the ability of old muscle to repair itself.

Research can now continue to move towards developing drugs to delay or reduce muscle deterioration, not just in older people but in those suffering from muscle disease.

So in the meantime we cannot be too hard on ourselves is we fail to maintain our times or speed from last year. However, the research emphasises the importance of staying active. The evidence is that long periods of disuse may irrevocably worsen our muscles regenerative powers.

In other words – use it or lose it.


** younger subjects were 21-24 years old and older subjects 68- 74 years old

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