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Active Ageing

18 July 2014

At Abertay, our sport and exercise scientists carry out research in a number of different fields, but are particularly interested in the area of active ageing.

Here, Dr James Cobley - who recently joined us from Liverpool John Moores University - explains what we know about exercise and the ageing process and why this research is so important.

"Everyone knows that, as we get older, it becomes more difficult to perform everyday tasks, like walking home from the shops or simply getting up out of a chair.

"This is because our muscles get smaller and weaker as we age.

"Unfortunately, poor muscle function is associated with increased disease risk, hospitalisation and institutionalisation in the elderly, so it’s a major health concern.

“What we’re trying to find out here at Abertay is whether there is anything we can do to mitigate the effects of ageing so that people can live happier, healthier lives.

"More than 10 million people in the UK are currently over the age of 65, and this figure is set to double in the next 30 years, so we need to find ways of making sure that as many people as possible have a good quality of life, to prevent a major strain on the health system.

"Fortunately, it’s not all bad news: we’ve known for some time that taking exercise can promote healthy ageing.

"What we didn’t know until relatively recently was why.

"Through research into elite athletes in the 1960s, it was established that exercise leads to an increase in the number of fuel generators (mitochondria) in our muscle cells.

"This is beneficial, because the more mitochondria our muscles have, the better our metabolism becomes, meaning we are able to exercise harder for longer.

"For years though, animal studies suggested that the body’s ability to adapt to the effects of exercise in this way was blunted with age, so we were unsure why exercise was good for older people.

"However in a recent study, we discovered that older muscle actually responds to exercise in exactly the same way as it does in younger people.

"This is exciting because it shows that even if you do very little exercise for many years, if you start exercising later in life, you can still get the benefits and improve your quality of life.

"What we’re interested in finding out next is whether exercise can treat age-related inflammation, which can impair muscle function. So watch this space for more exciting developments."

Another aspect of our active ageing research involves high intensity training (HIT).

Our HIT research team recently published the first study to show that the exercise regime benefits older people. You can find out more it here.

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