Did you know, by the age of 30 the number of motor neurons in your muscles start to slowly decline? This leads to losses in muscular mass and strength.

Before the age of 30, if a neuron gets damaged (the nerve cells that send messages to the brain and spinal cord to activate muscles), they can be easily replaced with new neurons. However, as we age, this regeneration stops, and the muscle fibres become inactive and die, leading to losses in muscle mass.

New research has looked into the effects that exercise has through the lifespan of former athletes. The study used former elite athletes from the 1970’s and 1980’s to see how their muscle strength and mass was in comparison to a control group. The results favoured the former athletes, with them having 25 percent more strength in their legs, and 14 percent overall improvement in muscle mass. They also had 30 percent more motor units compared to the control group.

So what does this all mean?

Muscle mass declines with age. Sarcopenia is age associated muscle loss, which affects many people as they age. The research showed that constant exercise throughout their lives assisted these participants in maintaining muscle strength. Muscle strength in older adults is extremely important in terms of preventing falls.

Having good muscle mass also increases metabolism and bodily functions. For example, building muscle mass is important in people with type 2 diabetes. This leads to better insulin resistance and glucose control, thus improving symptoms of the disease. Further, maintaining muscle mass is important for brain function. Muscles produce certain amino acids, such as glutamine which is a major antioxidant in the brain. It helps detoxify all the nasties in the brain, which is important for optimal brain functioning. Muscle mass is also important in maintaining and improving immune function as exercise has an anti-inflammatory effect which assists the restoration of the immune system.

Muscles need to be activated otherwise they will decrease in mass and in strength. Inactivity can lead to decreases of close to 30% in healthy people if they do not exercise for up to 2 weeks. The body is designed to move, designed to exercise in order to keep everything running smoothly. If you don’t use it, you lose it, and in this case, you can easily lose muscular strength and mass if you don’t incorporate exercise into your routine.

This doesn’t mean you have to go and lift heavy weights. This includes activities such as running or playing a social sport, using your body weight for certain exercises (IE: push ups, sit ups) and using resistance bands are all ways that can be just as effective and more cost effective.

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