Muscle loss when aging is quite common as seniors tend to consume less protein, which is necessary to rebuild muscle, and they exercise far less too. But there may be a biological cause of muscle loss to consider as well.
Research findings suggest that in 168 male participants, nerve signals in the legs decreased 30 percent by the age of 75. These nerves are what help control the legs. As a result, the decline in nerves led to muscle wasting away. These effects were less dramatic among fitter, more athletic seniors.
With age, muscles in the legs become smaller and weaker, which can lead to mobility issues. For a long time, we didn’t know why muscle loss occurs, until the latest research findings.
Younger adults have around 60 to 70,000 nerves that control the legs, but as people age, this number drastically drops.
Professor Jamie McPhee explained, “There was a dramatic loss of nerves controlling the muscles – a 30-60 percent loss – which means they waste away. The muscles need to receive a proper signal from the nervous system to tell them to contract, so we can move around.”
Researchers looked at muscle tissue using MRI scans along with recording electrical activity passing through the muscles to estimate the size and number of surviving nerves.
The good news is that surviving cells will send out signals to protect other nerves to prevent muscle wasting, but even this protection is limited. Therefore, having strong muscles can preserve strong nerves and delay muscles wasting through age. This is why it is so important to maintain a healthy diet and regular exercise even as you age.
Additional research is still required to determine why nerves die off with age.
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