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New Study Suggests Endurance Athletes’ Muscles Actually Get Better With Age

According to a new study from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), instead of the atrophy we expect from our muscles as we age, they may be “getting better” and not diminishing as much as you may think. The catch? You need to strengthen them with endurance sports throughout your life to reap the benefits. Obviously, runners have a distinct advantage in sustaining muscular strength–if they run consistently over an extended period of time.

The Purpose Of The Study

The study, conducted by a team of professors and doctors from Switzerland, Pittsburgh and Florida, was to explore the lifelong effects of a lifetime of aerobic exercise in older endurance-trained master athletes (ages 60 to 75) compared with that of noncompetitive recreational younger athletes (ages 18 to 39) matched by frequency and mode of training.

The Results

The study found that older endurance-trained athletes had greater amounts of fats, stored in droplets in muscle cells (called intramyocellular lipids), which provide an important energy source for working muscles. Conversely, muscle from younger athletes contained more glycogen (glucose that serves as a form of energy storage) and less of the fats the older athletes showed. However, the older athletes had better fat burning capacity (metabolic efficiency) during exercise than their younger counterparts.

The Bottom Line

Athletes should consistently train throughout their lives for better muscle function and efficiency in older age. One of the authors of the study, Francesca Amati, M.D., Ph.D., FACSM, is an associate professor in the Department of Physiology and Institute of Sports Sciences at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. Her research, which focused on metabolic adaptations to exercise in aging and chronic diseases, concluded:

“Lifetime aerobic exercise training results in key skeletal muscle adaptations that promote enhanced lipid (good fat) storage and utilization at moderate exercise intensities.”

If you need one more reason to get up and go for that run, you now have it. Your future fat-burning, energy storing, badass self will thank you.

Related:

How Does Age Affect Our Speed?

One Thing That Gets Better With Age Among Runners

4 Ways To Completely Reinvent Yourself As An Older Runner

Allie Burdick

Allie Burdick

Allie is a freelance writer, athlete and mom, but not in that order. Her work has appeared in Runner's World, Triathlon Magazine and ESPNW. On her blog, VITA Train for Life, she chronicles her life as a runner/triathlete and hopes her successes and failures help to motivate and inspire others, even the over-40 crowd she somehow found herself in! The rest of her time is spent raising her twin boys with her husband in the Northeast where they live a big life! See it all on Twitter and Instagram.