The above images are quadriceps MRI scans of a 74-year-old sedentary man, and a 74-year-old male triathlete. The difference in muscle mass is astounding, and according to a new study, they’re proof that you don’t have to lose muscle mass as you age. Pretty good reason to work out, right?
The study, published in the journal Physician and Sports Medicine (found via Jay Parkinson), investigated whether muscle atrophy actually happens because of aging, or because of lack of exercise. The researchers found that most other studies observe sedentary adults, so they took a look at both sedentary adults and masters athletes (“high-level recreational athletes” between the ages of 40 and 81 who exercise four to five times per week). They measured their muscles through health tests, body composition tests, and MRIs of several major muscle groups, including the quadriceps pictured above.
Not only is the difference between sedentary and athletic muscle mass impressive; it’s also impressive to see how little muscle mass seems to change over time in the masters athletes. Look at the quadriceps MRIs of the same 70-year-old pictured above, compared to a 40-year-old masters athlete:
In an ideal world, we would be looking at the same person’s muscles over time, but these are two different peoples’. Still, it’s pretty impressive to see what little difference aging seems to make in muscle mass for people who remain extremely active as they grow old.
Researchers conclude in the study abstract that aging doesn’t have to mean muscle atrophy at all, if you use your muscles:
This study contradicts the common observation that muscle mass and strength decline as a function of aging alone. Instead, these declines may signal the effect of chronic disuse rather than muscle aging…This maintenance of muscle mass and strength may decrease or eliminate the falls, functional decline, and loss of independence that are commonly seen in aging adults.
This is why you should work out.