In a previous article on this site, we put forward the idea that much of the loss of muscle bulk that is traditionally associated with ageing can be avoided by exercising. More evidence to support this comes from a study published in The Physician and Sports Medicine.

The study, by scientists from University of Pittsburgh and University of Lausanne, shows that much of the loss can be ascribed to the increasingly sedentary lifestyle that usually accompanies ageing, and that regular, intense exercise can greatly alter this.

For the purposes of the study, the scientists wanted to exclude the effects of sedentary lifestyle and disuse on the changes in muscle composition so they chose a number of people from what they described as a "growing subset of older individuals" which has "maintained higher functional capacity and quality of life through exercise". These are just the kind of people that the SGSC is all about.

The study focused on a selection of 40 of these "high-level recreational athletes ("masters athletes") aged from 40 to 81 and who trained 4 to 5 times per week". It found that through the training that the athletes underwent their lean muscle mass did not decline. Additionally, the level of exercise prevented the build up of fatty tissue within the muscle, so neither was strength lost. It further concluded that keeping strong might well help in avoiding many of the dangers of ageing such as falling over and injuring oneself, and losing independence through being unable to function as efficiently as when younger.

In other words, as well as the prolonged ability to enjoy one's sport, the enhanced fitness and strength contributed significantly to a reduction of the likelihood of contracting many of the diseases and conditions that make ageing such a "pain in the arse".

Even in these Masters Athletes, there was found to be a drop off in strength at some point in the early part of the decade from the age of 60 to 70, but this was not necessarily the beginning of a continued decline. After this age, further significant decline was not found to be the case. This is an important point for those who train since, if you find a loss of strength happening to you at a certain point, you mustn't give up training thinking this is the beginning of the end. It isn't. Scans of the leg muscles of a 70-year-old triathlete differed to an extraordinary degree from similar scans of a similarly aged sedentary person, and compared favourably with scans from a 40-year-old triathlete. This is not to say that a 70-year-old would necessarily compete on equal terms with a 40-year-old. The study concluded amongst other things that the strength and fitness maintained through exercise was more about health and the associated lifestyle benefits than competition.

In any case it's not solely about competing at sport, it's also about maintaining into later life the ability to participate, and continuing to enjoy your sport without accepting more of the limitations that are associated with age than is absolutely necessary.

The study did acknowledge a limitation in that since it concentrated on people who trained 4-5 times a week it could not absolutely conclude that the results would apply pro rata to those who trained less. Does that mean training 4-5 times per week or not at all? Well, we'll leave that to you to do your own field testing.