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Muscle Growth in Your 50s, 60s and 70s
Workouts Today Help Protect Muscle Growth in the Future

Workout today to protect future muscles.
Workout today to protect future muscles.

Exercise won’t just help you look better; it’ll help you live longer. Researchers have found a surprisingly close relationship between muscle strength and mortality.

Skeletal muscle makes up about 40% of the human body weight. It’s attached to bones by tendons, and it’s the muscle we use to move. It’s the only muscle under voluntary control. To make it stronger, we have to damage it. Here’s how that works.

When you lift something heavy, like a dumbbell, you create micro-tears in the skeletal muscle. Those tears send out signals to satellite cells and FAP (Fibro/Adipogenic Progenitor). The FAP releases trophic factor, which is like food. The satellite cells use that food to regenerate muscle fiber. Then FAP is cleared from the body. With repeated tearing, proper nutrition and rest, the muscle fiber grows back bigger and stronger.

As we age, skeletal muscle begins to decline. For most people, it starts when they enter their 30s. On average, women and men lose 10% of their muscle strength each decade, with women losing a greater percentage at a younger age than men because of gender differences.

If you’re not as strong as you were 10 or 20 years ago, it might not seem like a big deal at first. But it’s a combination of things that cause a problem.

Let’s say you’re in your 60s and you haven’t exercised regularly for the last 15 years. The muscles that help you keep your balance, your stabilizer muscles, have atrophied. Suddenly you lose your balance.

Because those stabilizer muscles are weak, you can’t stop yourself from taking a tumble. You reach out and grab something for support, but you’re too weak to hang on. As you fall to the floor, you don’t have much muscle mass to cushion yourself from the impact. To top it all off, your bones are weaker because they haven’t had the stress of regular exercise. The fall causes you to break your hip. Depending on your age, the mortality rate for a person over 60 with a broken hip in the first year can range from 14% to 58%.

Regular exercise can reduce the risk of all those bad things happening, but there’s a catch. If you stop exercising, those satellite cells that help repair muscle fiber go into a state of dormancy. You aren’t using them, so your body puts them into a sort of deep sleep. Unfortunately, even when they’re dormant, satellite cells continue to produce cellular “trash,” they just don’t get rid of it as normal cells do.

When you exercise, those satellite cells can clear out much of the trash they’ve accumulated. But if you wait too long, that cellular debris builds up and eventually damages the satellite cells. They get stuck through disuse and are left unable to divide. Without regular exercise to activate those cells, you lose more and more of your ability to repair and grow muscle.

The bulk of studies looking at muscle atrophy start with people over the age of 60. But researchers now know that decline starts at the much younger age of 30. The longer we avoid exercise, the more satellite cells can accumulate cellular waste and DNA damage. As satellite cells decline in number and stop working, muscle loss starts.

To keep your body healthy, you’ve got to do regular resistance training once you turn 30. But there’s also hope if you’re older and want to make a change.

Dr. Scott Trappe put together a study at the Human Performance Laboratory in Indiana. He and his colleagues wanted to find out the least amount of exercise someone in their 70s could engage in and still stay strong. So they put ten 70-year-old men who didn’t exercise through a 12-week, 3 sessions per week resistance training program.

At the end of the 12-week program, the men had increased their size and strength by an astonishing 50%. Those subjects reversed more than 20 years of muscle loss in three short months.

You shouldn’t wait until your 70s to begin. But even if you haven’t worked out in years, you can make dramatic changes to your body with a good resistance-training program. The sooner you start, the more muscle you’ll hang onto and the more muscle your body will be able to build in the future.

Reference Links:

Satellite cells in ageing: use it or lose it

William Chen, David Datzkiw, and Michael A. Rudnicki
Royal Society Publishing - Open Biology 23 April 2020 | https://doi.org/10.1098/rsob.200048

Click Here for the Study

Maintenance of Whole Muscle Strength and Size Following Resistance Training in Older Men

Scott Trappe, David Williamson, and Michael Godard
Journal of Gerontology: BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES November 27, 2001 | https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/57.4.B138

Click Here for the Study

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