A study, published in September of 2011, was done to find out if the loss of muscle mass in the elderly was simply a fact of aging or just disuse, so they looked at muscles in “high level recreational athletes” or “masters athletes” and this what they found:
The preservation of muscle mass and lack of fatty infiltration in the muscles of our subjects are dramatically illustrated in Figure 1.
The researchers looked at 40 of these “masters” athletes: ten in their 40s, ten in their 50s, and so on; five women and five men in each decade. These were amateur athletes, not professional ones, but many of them were “age-group winners for their sport,” and they trained at least four times a week. The researchers poked, prodded and measured the athletes to find out what their body was made of and what their quadriceps peak torque was (how much weight they could push with their legs). The results:
- The athletes over 70 were fatter: higher BMI and more body fat
- Lean muscle mass was the same across all age groups, so “chronic intense exercise preserved muscle mass”
- The peak torque was the same for those aged 40-60 and for those aged 60-80, but lower in the second group than in the first. So strength dips a little after 60, but then stays the same.
- “Chronic exercise is prophylactic against age-related functional decline, as exercise at any age stimulates protein synthesis and increased muscle mass and strength.”
Ergo, you don’t have to become the weak old person getting around with a walker or a Hoveround; but it does take work to not only build those muscles, but also to keep them in old age. Work that is undoubtedly worth it, because besides keeping the walker at bay, exercise also helps with heart disease, cancer, stroke and memory loss — which are 4 of the 6 leading causes of death, especially among the elderly; the other two are smoking and accidents.