Most active sports people after a certain age decide that it is time to stop training and slow down. Still others feel that it is too late to start, even if they have already shown some interest.
Both groups are actually wrong, and weight training is not only not harmful, but can have huge benefits for the human body in old age.
That’s exactly what a new scientific study from the University of Copenhagen shows, according to which exercise helps to strengthen the connections between nerves and muscles, and that this strengthening can happen in the later years of our lives.
What this means?
The human body begins to lose muscle mass sometime after the age of 40 at a rate of about 5% per decade, which can be different for everyone. The reason is a reduction in muscle fibers, which occurs when motor neurons – cells in the brain and spinal cord that control how our muscles and organs work – begin to break down.
Their job is to transmit signals from the brain to the nerves and from there to the muscles so that the body can move, whether you’re going to the supermarket for milk, lifting a glass, or lifting a barbell from a bench press.
As we age, these cells die in a progressive and unfortunately inevitable process that disrupts the connection between the nervous system and the muscles.
The good thing is that it can be significantly slowed down by regular exercise, as research shows. According to the results, this strengthens the connections between nerves and muscles, making the muscles stronger and better protecting the integrity of neurons.
“Until recently, science could not definitively prove that this is the case. Our study is the first to present evidence that weight training can strengthen the connection between motor neurons and muscles,” says physiologist Kasper Søndenbrue.
The study itself involved 38 healthy men with an average age of 72 who went through a 16-week program of relatively intense training three times a week with exercises such as leg presses, machine leg extensions and curls, as well as 1-2 arm exercises each.
Another group of 20 healthy men of the same age who did not exercise at all was included as a control comparison.
Already halfway through the experiment, Søndenbrue’s team found differences in the biomarkers of the two groups and reported a significant improvement in the quality of the exercisers’ muscles.
“We believe that weight training is one of the most effective forms of staying fit, whether you’re young or old. Your muscles and physical strength will increase, which will help you cope in everyday situations,” says Sondenbrue
According to him, this is a way for a better quality of life in old age.
“If you increase your life by five years at the expense of reduced functional ability, I’m not particularly convinced that you will gain very much. These additional years should be really quality,” the scientist believes.
Although the study was only done on men, its results apply equally to women and are linked to another experiment conducted in Finland a few years ago by the University of Jyväskylä.
There, the scientists selected a total of 81 male and female volunteers between the ages of 65 and 75 with no previous gym experience. For three months, they all train twice a week rigorously and with personal trainers who help them build basic strength and knowledge of how to do all the basic exercises.
All participants were then randomly divided into smaller groups that exercised once, twice, or three times a week, while a separate, non-exercising group served as control comparisons. Periodically, the researchers checked the volunteers’ strength, fitness and metabolic health, as well as their attitudes about exercise, including whether they found it intimidating or enjoyable, and how confident they were.
The entire program is completed within a total of six months, after which people are left to decide whether to exercise, but all of them are followed-up and interviewed over the next year.
The final results were surprising – 12 months after the end of the initial training regime, almost 50% of all volunteers continued to train on their own at least once a week, without the need to be motivated further.
“We had calculated that a maximum of 30 percent would continue on their own,” says Tija Kekalainen, head of the psychological part of the study, adding that weight training not only contributed to a better physical condition, but also to a better mental condition.
“Most of them said they felt more self-confident and confident that they could do more things.”
Best of all, it really doesn’t matter what age you start exercising, and it’s never too late to do so.
Of course, the sooner you start the better, but it’s never too late – even if you’re 65 or 70 years old. Your body can still benefit from heavy weight training.