Psychology Magazine

Young Muscles and Immune Systems in Aging Cyclists.

By Deric Bownds @DericBownds
I pass on the technical abstracts of two striking papers referenced by a Gretchen Reynolds article showing that the leg muscles and immune systems of 55-79 year adults who cycle approximately 400 miles/month are similar to those of young adults, suggesting that many features of immune and muscular senescence may be driven by reduced physical activity with age. By most estimates, only about 10 percent of people past the age of 65 work out regularly.
From Pollock et al.:
In this study, results are reported from the analyses of vastus lateralis muscle biopsy samples obtained from a subset (n = 90) of 125 previously phenotyped, highly active male and female cyclists aged 55-79 years in regard to age. We then subsequently attempted to uncover associations between the findings in muscle and in vivo physiological functions. Muscle fiber type and composition (ATPase histochemistry), size (morphometry), capillary density (immunohistochemistry) and mitochondrial protein content (Western blot) in relation to age were determined in the biopsy specimens. Aside from an age-related change in capillary density in males (r = -.299; p = .02), no other parameter measured in the muscle samples showed an association with age. However, in males type I fibres and capillarity (p < .05) were significantly associated with training volume, maximal oxygen uptake, oxygen uptake kinetics and ventilatory threshold. In females, the only association observed was between capillarity and training volume (p < .05). In males, both type II fiber proportion and area (p < .05) were associated with peak power during sprint cycling and with maximal rate of torque development during a maximal voluntary isometric contraction. Mitochondrial protein content was not associated with any cardiorespiratory parameter in either males or females (p > .05). We conclude in this highly active cohort, selected to mitigate most of the effects of inactivity, that there is little evidence of age-related changes in the properties of VL muscle across the age range studied. By contrast, some of these muscle characteristics were correlated with in vivo physiological indices.
and, from Duggal et al.:
It is widely accepted that aging is accompanied by remodelling of the immune system including thymic atrophy and increased frequency of senescent T cells, leading to immune compromise. However, physical activity, which influences immunity but declines dramatically with age, is not considered in this literature. We assessed immune profiles in 125 adults (55-79 years) who had maintained a high level of physical activity (cycling) for much of their adult lives, 75 age-matched older adults and 55 young adults not involved in regular exercise. The frequency of naïve T cells and recent thymic emigrants (RTE) were both higher in cyclists compared with inactive elders, and RTE frequency in cyclists was no different to young adults. Compared with their less active counterparts, the cyclists had significantly higher serum levels of the thymoprotective cytokine IL-7 and lower IL-6, which promotes thymic atrophy. Cyclists also showed additional evidence of reduced immunesenescence, namely lower Th17 polarization and higher B regulatory cell frequency than inactive elders. Physical activity did not protect against all aspects of immunesenescence: CD28-ve CD57+ve senescent CD8 T-cell frequency did not differ between cyclists and inactive elders. We conclude that many features of immunesenescence may be driven by reduced physical activity with age.


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