Don’t let your strength disappear

Don’t let your strength disappear

New research has reported that it takes just two weeks of physical inactivity for those who are physically fit to lose a significant amount of their muscle strength.

In that short period of time, young people lose about 30 percent of their muscle strength, leaving them as strong as someone decades older. Active older people who become sedentary for a couple weeks lose about 25 percent of their strength.

The Danish study reported in the  Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine found that the more muscle a person has, the more they will lose if they are sidelined by an injury, illness or inactive holiday.

According to the researchers, their experiment showed that inactivity affects the muscular strength in young and older men similarly. Having had one leg immobilized for two weeks, young people lose up to a third of their muscular strength, while older people lose approximately a quarter of their strength. A young man who is immobilized for two weeks loses muscular strength in his leg equivalent to aging by 40 or 50 years.

Total muscle mass normally declines with age. Young men have about a kilogram more muscle mass in each leg than older men do. However, after two weeks of not moving at all, the young men involved in the study lost on average almost half a kilogram of muscle whereas older men lost had an average of just over a quarter of a kilogram.

Not surprisingly, all of the men lost physical fitness while their leg was immobilised.

Even though older people lose less muscle mass and their level of fitness is reduced slightly less than in young people, the loss of muscle mass is often more significant for older people, because it is likely to have a greater impact on their general health and quality of life.  It is also likely to increase their risk of falls.

After being immobilized for two weeks, the men who participated in the study trained on an exercise bike three to four times a week for six weeks. This exercise helped the men regain physical fitness, however their muscle strength didn’t fully recover in that period of time.

Cycling, and presumably other aerobic activity, is sufficient to help people regain lost muscle mass and get back to their former fitness level. However if you want to regain your muscular strength following a period of inactivity, you need to include strength training.

The researchers highlighted that it takes about three times the amount of time you were inactive to get your muscle mass back.

So what does this mean for you?

Firstly, it is a lot easier to maintain your strength than go for a period of inactivity, lose it and have to work hard to try to regain it.

Secondly, if you do lose strength due to a reduction in activity because of illness or injury (holidays aren’t a good enough excuse!), then you need to do strength training to restore strength; aerobic activity won’t do it.

Thirdly, younger people can’t assume they can go without any activity for too long, as they will lose their strength quicker than older people do.

Bottom line – don’t let your strength disappear. As it takes a lot more effort to get it back than to keep it.

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David Beard
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