The popular saying goes that 70 is the new 60 and 60 is the new 50, unfortunately for much of New Zealand’s ageing population declining muscle function means it simply isn’t true.
New research however from The University of Auckland’s Faculty of Science aims to develop a non-pharmaceutical means to maintain muscle function and quality of life in older individuals. The good news is the answer could be as simple as taking a stroll followed by a glass of chocolate milk.
Senior lecturer at the Department of Sport and Exercise Science, Dr Benjamin Miller, says the goal of his research is not to make athletes out of the elderly, but to increase our lifespan and quality of life in old age.
“The ability of people to create energy and perform work stems from structures that exist inside our cells called mitochondria. As we grow older the amount of mitochondria we have decreases and with it our respiratory capacity.
“This decline is determined by the turnover of proteins in the mitochondria. We hope to highlight an effective and easy way to maintain the protein content in muscles or at least replace old and damaged proteins with new ones.”
With funding assistance from the New Zealand Health Research Council, Dr Miller and PhD student Cheryl Murphy, asked a group of elderly kiwis to perform two identical sessions of aerobic exercise on a stationary bike. After one session the participants were asked to drink a mixture of protein and carbohydrate (e.g. sweetened milk) and after the other just carbohydrates.
It is well known that consuming proteins and sugars after resistance training increases the synthesis of proteins used for force i.e. it builds muscles. Dr Miller’s research will tell us whether doing the same after aerobic exercise can also increase the synthesis of mitochondrial proteins which affect our ability to make energy and play a large role in our mortality.
“We know of course that exercise has a wide variety of health benefits, but our research specifically targets mitochondria since they are a cause of age-related decreases in muscle function.
“If successful, we could prove that our non-pharmaceutical means to increase muscle quality could mean that a practice as simple as drinking a Milo after exercise may help reduce our morbidity and prolong mortality.”