Research has shown yet another benefit of cardio exercise like cycling.Cardio exercise can induce an increase in the number of your muscle stem cells! This is a promising finding for those of us who are ageing (that is, all of us).
As we get older, we naturally lose muscle strength. “After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade. Most men will lose about 30% of their muscle mass during their lifetimes.” (Harvard Health.)
Eventually, this loss of strength becomes a major factor in losing our quality of life as we age. Loss of muscle causes less mobility and increased weakness, which can increase your risk of falls. It also leads to death in many cases. For example, falls can lead to fractures, other health complications, and death. (Harvard Health.)
Older Rats Fared Better
Researchers induced rats to run on a treadmill for 20 minutes a day for 13 weeks. Presumably this was easier than persuading human beings to exercise consistently for 20 minutes a day! This exercise resulted in changes to the muscle cells of the participating rats.
The results varied with age, with positive results being more pronounced in older rats!
“In old rats, these effects were further associated with enhanced muscle quality (lean-to-muscle composition) and spontaneous activity. We suggest that the boost of satellite-cell numbers and their myogenic performance may represent a possible mechanism by which endurance exercise enhances muscle quality in old age.” (Reduced Satellite Cell Numbers and Myogenic Capacity in Aging Can Be Alleviated by Endurance Exercise.)
Increase in the Number of Stem Cells per Muscle Fiber
The bottom line on the rats was that all of those fit little rats showed an increase in the number of stem cells per muscle fiber (up to 47% in the case of the older rats). In case you’re going “So what?” … it seems that these stem cells in our muscle fibers help to regenerate our muscles after illness or injury. As an added bonus, older rats showed an improvement in their lean muscle to fat ratio, and spontaneously increased their activity levels.
Researchers think that this increase in muscle stem cells could be the reason why human beings who exercise maintain better muscle function as they grow older.
Delaying the Progress of Sarcopenia
Also, these results indicate that regular cardio exercise could delay the progress of sarcopenia – an obscure word for that horrible phenomenon of losing muscle mass and strength as we grow older.
Sarcopenia is an inevitable process, and is one of the reasons why older athletes usually cannot compete with younger ones. Biology just stacks the cards too high against older people.
However, there are certainly ways of slowing down muscle loss, and all kinds of research indicates that exercise is key. Until now I had thought it was only strength training that could slow sarcopenia, so I am overjoyed to find that my favorite type of exercise – cycling, of course – can also have this effect.
Health and Fitness Reasons to Cycle
This research adds to the huge pile of health and fitness reasons to cycle: longer life, better quality of life, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, reduced blood pressure.
And let’s not forget weight loss and development of lean muscle mass. I can personally attest that cycling has helped me lose weight (40 pounds), reduce my blood sugar, bring my blood pressure down from high to extremely low (which is good), and build muscle mass.
I don’t know if I have more muscle stem cells, as I cannot see inside me, but I’m optimistic!
As with all research on animals, we will have to wait until it is replicated with human beings before we can be sure it also works for us. But in the meantime – hey, there’s no downside! We can just keep on having fun on our bikes, with the added bonus that research is suggesting that our cycling will maintain our muscle strength and enable us to cycle till we’re 100.
Exercise is a Miracle Cure
If you still need inspiration to get more exercise, read this post about how research shows that exercise powerfully combats most of the deadly diseases that usually kill us, including stroke, diabetes, heart disease, COPD, and cancer.
The research was so overwhelming that the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges referred to exercise as a miracle cure! Anyone who cycles knows what a dramatic difference it can make to your health and fitness. But it is great to have it confirmed by science.
Cycle on and be well!
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Sources Used in this Post
Shefer, Gabi, Gat Rauner, Zipora Yablonka-Reuveni and Dafna Benayahu. Reduced Satellite Cell Numbers and Myogenic Capacity in Aging Can Be Alleviated by Endurance Exercise. October 12, 2010. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0013307
Harvard Health Publishing. Preserve your muscle mass. Declining muscle mass is part of aging, but that does not mean you are helpless to stop it. February, 2016.