Men and women who have done long-term aerobic exercise show better skeletal muscle metabolic fitness and aerobic capacity than similarly aged men and women who have not engaged in aerobic activity, according to a study by researchers at Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, published online this month by the Journal of Applied Physiology.
The study looked at 28 people (seven of them women) in their 70s who had started exercising recreationally in the 1970s and had maintained their exercise habit throughout the next 50 years, one of the study’s authors, Scott Trappe, the director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State, told The New York Times.
For comparison, researchers also looked at a second group of people in their 70s who had not exercised regularly during the past five decades and a group of people in their 20s who were physically active.
The researchers tested the aerobic capacities of all three groups. They then tested tissue samples to measure how many capillaries each participant had as well as the enzyme levels in their muscles. The higher level of each, the healthier the muscles, according to researchers.
The study found that the physically active seniors had levels of capillaries and enzymes similar to those of the active younger people and much higher than those of the inactive seniors.
When researchers tested aerobic capacity, they found that the active senior group had the cardiovascular health of people 30 years younger than them and 40 percent greater than that of the inactive seniors. The younger active group had greater aerobic capacity than the active senior group.
The study’s author cautioned, however, that the study did not measure muscle mass or other health indicators nor did it look at whether starting exercise later in life would have the same effects. It also did not factor in other possible effects, such as genes, income, diet and other lifestyle choices. Researchers plan to study these effects in future studies, Trappe told the Times.
Still, the study may show that it’s possible that regular aerobic activity throughout life can help to slow the aging process when it comes to skeletal muscle metabolic fitness and aerobic capacity.