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Training more often builds more muscle in the elderly

Even the over eighties can build muscle by training, but the rate at which they do so is low. Now Italian scientists may have discovered how senior citizens can make their training programmes more effective. They need to train more often.

Trainers are convinced that, even though physical exercise is probably the most powerful medicine against ageing we know, elderly people cannot exert themselves as heavily as young people can. Their bodies are more frail and their powers of recovery are reduced.

That means that programmes for the elderly devote more attention to the warming-up and other safety aspects, that intensity is limited and that more rest days are included. It's this last aspect that may be counter-productive at least, if the results of the Italian animal study soon to be published in Experimental Gerontology also hold for humans.

In the study the researchers got elderly lab rats [aged between 14 and 16 months] to run in a treadmill over a period of eight weeks.

The researchers gradually increased the length and intensity of the running schedule, so that by the last weeks of the experiment the animals were running 28 m/minute for 60 minutes. Half of the rats ran three times a week; the other half ran five times.

Training more often builds more muscle in the elderly
A control group of rats of a similar age didn't run at all [SED]. A second control group consisted of non-active rats aged four months [YC].

At the end of the experiment the rats that had run five times a week had built up more muscle mass than the rats that had trained three times a week. In the muscles of the active rats, the anabolic key molecule mTOR had become more active. But only in the rats that had run five times a week was the molecule as active as in the young animals.

Training more often builds more muscle in the elderly

Training more often builds more muscle in the elderly

MTOR becomes less active as we age, and as a result older muscle cells lose their sensitivity to insulin. That's why the chance of developing diabetes-2 rises with age, and why elderly people lose muscle mass and strength.

Researchers have known for a few years already that training can activate mTOR. If the Italians' findings are also valid for humans, then elderly people can potentially restore their mTOR activity to the level it was when they were young. But to do so it seems they'll have to train frequently.

Exp Gerontol. 2011 Oct 12. [Epub ahead of print].

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