Cellular Damage Suffered in Older Muscles is Especially Harsh

Everyone knows that aging takes a toll on a body, including our cells. It also isn’t a surprise that exercising is good for one’s health in a variety of ways. The cellular damage suffered in older muscles is especially harsh because these cells are not easily regenerated. Over time, the muscles weaken as the mitochondria (responsible for producing energy) decrease in number and vigor.

Scientists have a slight understanding of how exercise affects our cells, and how those changes vary depending on the activity and the exerciser’s age. However, a study published in Cell Metabolism in March and carried out by the Mayo Clinic, suggests that specific types of exercise can actually reverse some mitochondria damage done through the natural process of aging.

The research study involved 72 women and men who were healthy but had a sedentary lifestyle and aged 30 or younger, and 64 and older. Volunteers of the study had their baseline measures established for blood-sugar levels, gene activity, mitochondrial health and each’s aerobic fitness. Each person then was randomly assigned a specific workout regime and the regimes were broken into four groups:

  1. Vigorous training with weights several times weekly.
  2. Brief and interval stationary bike training three times weekly, which involved hard peddling for four minutes and then resting for three minutes. The sequence of peddling and resting was repeated three more times.
  3. Moderately paced stationary bike riding for 30 minutes and repeated several times weekly, while doing light weight lifting on the other days.
  4. No exercise done and remained sedentary.

Lab tests repeated 12 weeks later revealed noted improvements in each exercising participant’s blood sugar levels and levels of fitness. The research showed some unexpected and surprising results based on the specific workout regime.

Vigorous Weight Training Shows the Largest Increase in Strength and Muscle Mass

As to be expected, the group doing the vigorous weight training showed the largest increase in strength and muscle mass. However, the group doing interval training experienced the greatest increase in endurance.

In addition, the researchers biopsied muscle cells finding that the activity levels in genes had changed in both young and older participants. For younger subjects, 33 genes changed for weight lifters, 74 for those exercising moderately and those doing interval workouts had 274.

Older participants in the study doing interval workouts saw an even larger amount of genes operating differently than their younger co-subjects, with about 400. In addition, senior weight lifters had 33 genes change and senior moderate exercisers had 19.

Dr. Sreekumaran Nair, a professor of medicine and an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic and the study’s senior author states,

“It seems as if the decline in cellular health of muscles associated with aging was corrected with exercise, especially if intense.” He continues, “In fact, older people’s cells responded in some ways more robustly to intense exercise than the cells of the young did” – suggesting, he says, “that it is never too late to exercise.”

Even though they say an old dog can’t change their spots, the research study shows this isn’t true with our health. Getting off the couch and incorporating even a small amount of exercise can help reverse the detrimental effects of age.


Cell Metabolism: Enhanced Protein Translation Underlies Improved Metabolic and Physical Adaptations to Different Exercise Training Modes in Young and Old Humans

The New York Times: The Best Exercise for Aging Muscles –https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/23/well/move/the-best-exercise-for-aging-muscles.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share&_r=1

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: Physical Activity Has Many Health Benefits https://health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/chapter2.aspx