We turn a year older every birthday and so do our organs, systems and body parts. Spinal cord might bend making us crouch and our muscles and bones become brittle and weaker. Leg muscles too become smaller and weaker becoming less and less able to bear our weight often resulting in disabilities and falls. While we blame old age for this none until now was aware of the science behind this or whether this can be reversed too. Now, researchers at the Manchester Metropolitan University comment that muscle wasting occurs as a result of changes in the nervous system. These changes occur because around 30-50% of nerves controlling leg movement of individuals doesn’t exist after the age of 75. Due to this, parts of many muscles stay disconnected from the nervous system which makes them functionally useless and hence these succumb to muscle wasting. Healthy muscles come to rescue here as surviving nerves can send new branches to rescue detached muscle fiber. This too is possible only when the ageing adult has healthy muscles. But when there are no internally healthy muscles and nerves that can send new branches it can result in extensive muscle loss. This condition has a medical name called Sarcopenia and it affects almost 10-20% people over the age of 65.
The Manchester study included 168 participants whose muscle tissue was studied in detail using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Young adults have between 60,000 and 70,000 nerves that control movement in legs from the lumbar spine. But the percentage of these nerves reduced drastically in older adults by as much as 30-60%. The nervous system must give instructions to the muscles to contract and only when this signal is sent, we can move around. In older adults the muscles are very old with only a few dozen nerves left but the young and healthy adults are blessed with hundreds of them.
Researchers are now excited about the opportunity to know whether regular exercise in middle and old age slows the disconnection process of muscles from the nervous system or helps to improve the nerve branching to rescue detached muscle fiber. We need to probe further to understand whether strength training or endurance exercises would be the best fit for muscle fibers. Loss of muscle mass leads to a condition called Sarcopenia and people affected by this condition are at a higher risk of social isolation, falling, bone fracture, disability and hospital admission. Another study shows that older people who cycled regularly were able to preserve their muscle strength and mass. All these findings nullify the fact that ageing automatically makes us more fragile and there is no solution to it.
Following the tips given here can help you preserve muscle health:
AVOID FRAUD. EAT SMART.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.