A new study shows yet another benefit of cardio exercise: an increase in the number of muscle stem cells!
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!) Results varied with age, with positive results being more pronounced in older rats!
Here’s Mrs. Average Joe Cyclist’s post about her very successful weight loss with cycling.
Bottom line on the rats was that all of those fit little rats showed an increase in the number of stem cells per muscle fibre (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 fibres 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. 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. Think of Lance Armstrong’s latest performance in the Tour de France. Prior to the race there was a lot of hype about the race being between 39-year-old Lance and 27-year-old Alberto Contador. But the reality is, biology just stacks the cards too high against older people – Lance never had a chance.
But 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!
This news 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 of course, 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 buffness and enable us to cycle till we’re 100!
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