The damage that aging muscles takes on a body extends down to the cellular level. But the damage accrued by cells in older muscles is severe because they do not regenerate easily and they become weak as their mitochondria, which produce energy, diminish in vigor and number.
A study carried out in Cell Metabolism, however, suggests that certain sorts of workouts may undo some of what the years can do to our mitochondria.
Exercise is good for human health, as everyone knows. But scientists have little understanding of its impacts on the cellular level and how those might vary by activity and the age of the exerciser.
So scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., recently conducted an experiment on the cells of some healthy men and women who were sedentary, they were 30 years or younger or older than 64. After the exercise was established for their aerobic fitness, their blood-sugar levels and the gene activity and mitochondrial health in their muscle cells, the volunteers were randomly assigned to a particular exercise regimen.
Some of the men and women did weight training several times a week; some did brief interval training three times a week on stationary bicycles some rode stationary bikes at a moderate pace for 30 minutes a few times a week and lifted weights lightly on other days. A fourth group, the control, did not exercise.
After 12 weeks, the lab tests were repeated. In general, everyone experienced improvements in fitness and an ability to regulate blood sugar.
Unsurprising the gains in muscle mass and strength were greater for those who exercised only with weights, while interval training had the strongest influence on endurance.
Bottom line: It seems as if the decline in the cellular health of muscles associated with aging was “corrected” with exercise. older people’s cells responded in some ways more robustly to intense exercise than the cells of the young did.
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