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Beginners have the same capacity for building muscle as master athletes

A new study at the University of Birmingham (UoB) has revealed that older adults who have never consistently engaged in exercise programs have as much capacity for building muscle mass as a highly-trained master athlete in the same age group.

The research suggests that resistance exercises such as weight training are just as beneficial for beginners.

Researchers in the UoB School of Sport and Exercise Science compared muscle-building ability among two groups of older men. The first group included master athletes, which are people in their 70s and 80s who have a lifelong history of exercise and are still competing at the top levels of their sport. The second group of participants consisted of healthy individuals in the same age range who had never participated in structured exercise programs.

The participants were given isotope tracers before engaging in a single session of exercise that involved weight training on an exercise machine. In addition, samples of muscle tissue were taken from participants before and after the workout. 

The team examined the tissue samples to investigate how the men’s muscles were responding to exercise. Meanwhile, the isotope tracer showed how proteins were developing within the muscle.

The researchers anticipated that the master athletes would have an increased ability to build muscle due to their long history of superior fitness. Surprisingly, the results showed that both groups had an equal capacity to build muscle.

“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,” noted study lead author Dr. Leigh Breen. “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.”

“Current public health advice on strength training for older people is often quite vague. What’s needed is more specific guidance on how individuals can improve their muscle strength, even outside of a gym-setting through activities undertaken in their homes – activities such as gardening, walking up and down stairs, or lifting up a shopping bag can all help if undertaken as part of a regular exercise regime.”

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Shutterstock/RossHelen

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