Is it possible to reverse muscle aging?

12.07.17 |

When we talk about optimal wellbeing and longevity, we often use words like “vibrant” and “active” and “energetic.” In the Habits of Health System, longevity is not about barely hanging on for as long as you can. It’s about not only living longer but adding more healthy, active years to your life.

In other words, we don’t want you to just survive. We want you to thrive!

Longevity is a challenging topic to discuss because of its complexity. Though medicine has been working for centuries to extend our lives, we still have a lot to learn about the science of aging and how factors like genetics (that are out of our control, for now) and the impact that our Habits of Health (or Disease) combine to determine how long we live.

The good news: Ongoing research continues to confirm the principles that formed the first edition of the Habits of Health System. In terms of aging, my longtime readers may recall that in Chapter 13 of Dr. A’s Habits of Health we talk about how lean muscle mass can aid in weight loss and long-term disease prevention.

How does it all work?

It really comes down to tiny mitochondria, the little energy factories of our cells. Mitochondria take the nutrients we consume and convert them into energy to power the machinery of our cells. In the case of our muscle cells, mitochondria are highly influenced by the work particular muscles perform.

Our bodies generally have the highest proportion of mitochondria when we’re in late adolescence, after which point they start to diminish. Beginning at age twenty, we lose about a pound of muscle each year. And what do those muscle cells get replaced with? Fat cells.

Muscle consumes far more energy than fat, and this loss of muscle mass and muscle strength—known as sarcopenia of aging—is linked to pre-obesity and obesity. Not to mention that having weak, flabby muscles plays a large part in our downward spiral to disease.

Muscle deterioration is reversible, and according to a recent study from the Mayo Clinic, we may even be able to reverse muscle aging.

From the Mayo Clinic

Mayo researchers compared high-intensity interval training, resistance training and combined training. All training types improved lean body mass and insulin sensitivity, but only high-intensity and combined training improved aerobic capacity and mitochondrial function for skeletal muscle. Decline in mitochondrial content and function are common in older adults.

The key here is high-intensity interval training (or HIIT), which uses short durations of intense anaerobic exercise mixed with recovery periods. We’ve talked about HIIT before, and the challenge of encouraging HIIT exercise remains the same: Going from a state of very little daily activity to an intensely challenging workout can be dangerous, so talk to your physician before making any radical change to your lifestyle.

Given that the research from the Mayo Clinic focused specifically on benefits for people over 65, we can clearly see that HIIT can be accessible, but we have to be careful to make the transition safely and to work with fitness experts who can adapt their instruction to meet you where you are.

Remember, Habits of Healthy Motion, even if they are not in the HIIT category of activity, still produce a wealth of rewards. As you move farther down the road to optimal health, you may want to incorporate some HIIT training into your routine, especially as you near a healthy weight and only if your physician feels it is safe for you to do so.