Posted on 7 October 2022
Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.
Why is this research important: When it comes to ageing, muscle seems to be particularly important. Having a higher muscle mass and especially higher muscle strength is associated with lower mortality from all causes at older ages. Lifting weights can help preserve muscle into older age, but this is only half the battle. A large part of declining strength with advancing age is probably caused by the weakening of the connections between the muscle tissue and the brain. This is due to changes at the neuromuscular junction – the place where a motor nerve carrying electrical signals from the brain forms a synapse with a muscle fibre. This ‘neuromuscular ageing’ needs to be slowed down too, if we want to effectively slow the loss of muscle strength during the ageing process and the increased mortality which that entails.
What did the researchers do: In this study, researchers took 58 healthy, elderly men aged 72 on average, and assigned 38 of them to intensive weight training for 16 weeks. This involved several leg and upper arm exercises. The remaining 20 participants served as a control group and were not assigned to weight training. At the start, end, and at 8 weeks, researchers took muscle biopsies and analysed muscle composition and gene expression.
Key takeaway(s) from this research: Unsurprisingly given previous research, participants in the training group gained strength, and this was reflected by the growth of their muscle fibres at the microscopic level. The more novel finding was that weight training beneficially altered the expression of genes related to the neuromuscular junction. According to the researchers, these changes indicate that weight training may be able to ‘stabilise’ the neuromuscular junction and slow down its deterioration.
It’s encouraging that when it comes to lifestyle modifications, studies continue to suggest significant benefits can still be gained even when action is taken at a relatively advanced age. With that being said, changes in the neuromuscular junction are still thought to be mostly irreversible, while building new muscle becomes harder with increasing age. One would ideally build muscle at a younger age, and attempt to maintain it as well as possible throughout life.
Human skeletal muscle acetylcholine receptor gene expression in elderly males performing heavy resistance exercise: https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpcell.00365.2021