Can Supplements And Exercise Improve Strength And Muscle Mass For Older Adults?

exercise-ladySarcopenia is defined as the loss of muscle strength and function. It is known and accepted as a natural part of aging but is also a growing public concern because of the risk for falls, injury and decline in quality of life. But Rick Sharp, a professor of kinesiology and Iowa State University researcher, is working to slow or reverse the progression of sarcopenia by testing the effectiveness of a combination of supplements and resistance training in older adults with low vitamin D levels.

Sharp has designed a trial to build on previous studies which show that the supplement HMB reduces muscle loss. HMB also known as b-hydroxy-b-methyl butyrate is a natural body building compound that Iowa State researchers discovered, but not everyone in those studies benefited equally from HMB and weight training.

The Findings

The goal of the study was to see whether vitamin D would improve response to HMB and resistance training, and thereby increasing strength and muscle mass. Lower vitamin D is common in climates in which people do not get year-round exposure to the sun. Both HMD and vitamin D are in foods we normally eat and available as supplements. The research on vitamin D and HMB is intended to boost exercise results by providing appropriate nutritional support and not create a magic pill.

The researchers determined that older adults who didnt respond as well to the supplement had something in common lower levels of vitamin D. They stressed that the importance of exercise and resistance training as we age because its not just aging that contributes to sarcopenia, but rather aging and reduced activity.

In order to monitor future response, some participants will continue with their normal exercise and daily routine while others will attend on-campus exercise sessions. The exercise sessions are designed and conducted by ISU researchers and the workouts will incorporate weight machines and resistance bands and will target all major muscle groups to improve strength and balance.

Sharp added that participants are still needed and that it will take several years to complete the testing before the results can be analyzed. One-hundred-and-sixty participants 80 men and 80 women are needed for the study. The researchers plan to track each participants muscle mass and strength for a year.

Nutrition Also A Key Component

We know that sarcopenia is so predictable in older adults that anything we can do that slows down the progression and/or reverses it, is going to be effective, Sharp said. If all we were to do is prevent their muscle mass and function from dropping, weve already had a real positive impact. Even if it doesnt improve by 10, 15, 20 percent, theyre not losing it and thats just as good. Theres no substitute for physical activity. We have to stay physically active through the lifespan.

We think nutrition is a key component in helping to ensure that older adults get a better response from exercise, Sharp continued. As we get older our activities of daily living really depend on proper functioning of all those muscle groups working together. Were really cognizant of the risk of falls with the older individuals. One way to reduce falls and injury from falls is to improve balance and coordination and the ability to catch yourself when you stumble. That requires good reaction time and the ability to generate the amount of force to catch yourself before you tumble.


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