Recent studies on the benefits of weightlifting have shown that it can help improve nerve and muscle connections, and that this benefit persists even in old age.
Before the age of 40, we begin to lose muscle mass due in part to a loss in muscle fibres brought on by the breakdown of motor neurons, the cells in the brain and spinal cord that signal the body to move.
Although this decrease is irreversible, the latest research demonstrates that it may be considerably reduced. The study found that weight training strengthened neural-muscular connections and safeguarded spinal-cord motor neurons, both of which are crucial to bodily function.
“Weight training has not been shown to improve synaptic strength between motor neurons and muscles in previous studies. The results presented in our research are the first to provide evidence that this is the case “Casper Sndenbroe, a physiologist for exercise at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, explains.
It’s difficult to get a representative sample at the junctions between muscle and nerve cells, which makes it hard to get accurate readings there. As a countermeasure, the team examined participants’ biopsy samples for biomarkers associated with the integrity of synaptic connections between neurons and muscles.
Participants in the study were 38 healthy older males with a mean age of 72. They were instructed to engage in a 16-week programme of moderately intense weight lifting, consisting of leg presses, leg extensions, leg curls, and two upper arm exercises. Twenty more older men, all healthy, and all of the same average age (72), served as a control group that did not engage in weight training.
Muscle growth and improved fitness were evident after just two months of weight training three times per week. Muscle samples were taken, and alterations in the biomarkers were observed.
Some evidence suggests that weight training can delay, but not reverse, the breakdown of the connection between muscles and the neurological system that underlies aches and pains throughout the body, from the twinges in the back to the discomfort in the knees. The study authors hypothesise that starting early in life allows the body to amass “reserves” that it may draw on in times of need.
Scientist Sandenbroe adds, “The study indicates that even if you begin late in life, you can still make an impact.”
“Even if you are 65 or 70 years old, it is never too late to begin. Heavy weight exercise is still beneficial for your physique.”
Despite the fact that this research was conducted on males, its findings are also applicable to women; for instance, older women who are at increased risk of osteoporosis can gain just as much as men do from resistance training.
Maintaining as much functional muscle mass as feasible into old age is becoming increasingly crucial as the average lifespan of people throughout the world continues to increase.
Even while certain aging-related biological changes are inevitable, studies have shown that avoiding unhealthy foods and being active can help prevent against some of the harm that comes with becoming older.
Understanding how strength training keeps muscles and neurons connected is the next step in this line of inquiry.
Sndenbroe explains that further research is required to identify the precise processes by which weight training enhances the nervous system’s capacity to make connections.
“To achieve that, we need to implement new approaches,” the authors write, “but our ultimate objective remains the same: to guarantee that as many seniors as possible not just survive longer but also thrive.”
The study was printed in the Cell Physiology section of the American Journal of Physiology.