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It’s never too late for older adults to build muscle, study finds

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Birmingham, England — Even if you’re older and haven’t worked out in years – or ever – resistance exercises can help you build muscle on par with highly trained athletes of similar age, results of a recent study from the University of Birmingham show.

Researchers studied eight “untrained older male” participants between 60 and 80 years old and seven “male master endurance athletes” in the same age range who trained more than twice a year for at least the previous two decades. To gauge both groups’ ability to build muscle, the participants engaged in weight training using an exercise machine and were given isotope tracers to show protein growth. The researchers also collected muscle biopsies 48 hours before and after the training.

“The researchers had expected that the master athletes would have an increased ability to build muscle due to their superior levels of fitness over a prolonged period of time,” an Aug. 30 press release from the University of Birmingham states. “In fact, the results showed that both groups had an equal capacity to build muscle in response to exercise.”

Lead researcher Leigh Breen adds, “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.”

The researcher also said that more guidance is needed on how older people can improve muscular strength even with activities such as gardening or walking up and down a flight of stairs.

The study was published online Aug. 30 in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.

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