06.07.2016 Active ageing: resistance and endurance training increases brain function, boosts the immune system, prevents tumours and cancer, and stops muscle loss in the elderly

Dr. Wessner Bild vergrößern

Studies by the Austrian University of Vienna confirm the importance of exercise in old age – the Vienna Active Ageing Study highlights the effects of exercise on the immune system. At the ECSS Congress from 6-9 July around 3,000 sports scientists from all over the world will discuss the latest findings from the world of sports medicine, biomechanics and performance diagnostics at the Austria Center Vienna. 

  • At least 5-15% of over 60s worldwide suffer from some age-related degenerative muscle loss

  • Austrian study confirms: improved quality of life through resistance training – up to 30% increase in muscle mass possible at any age

  • Building up the skeletal muscles enhances brain function, boosts the immune system and reduces cancer risk

  • Simple key to improving personal wellbeing: 10,000 steps per day and two resistance training sessions a week 

While muscle loss begins in the 30s, the rate of decline accelerates at around the age of 60, when function starts to deteriorate by about 1% a year. Poor nutrition, inactivity and specific conditions such as tumours and immune diseases can all speed up the process. Muscle loss has a major effect on independence, particularly among older people. Activities that call for muscle strength, such as climbing stairs or standing up from a sitting position become increasingly difficult. “Sarcopenia – the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass – affects around 15% of over 65s, a figure which rises to almost 50% in the over 80s,” explains associate professor and ECSS Congress committee member Barbara Wessner. “The key message is that people – whatever their age or however advanced muscle loss is – can improve mass and function through a targeted combination of endurance and strength training. Contrary to previous thinking, light endurance training alone is not enough to keep muscle loss at bay. But the positive news is that success is possible and the progression of the condition can be slowed at any age,” she confirmed.

Study confirms: better quality of life at old age through resistance training

“Use it or lose it” Wessner’s multi-faculty Vienna Active Ageing Study at the University of Vienna, which monitored 120 participants between the age of 65 and 97 over a period of 18 months, showed that resistance training not only stops muscle loss in its tracks, but was also behind a 20-30% gain in muscle function in some cases. “The study focused on restoring lost muscle function. Participants who were unable to get up out of a chair unassisted were able to do so under their own steam after six months of training – five times in 30 seconds. Another positive outcome was a drop in the risk of falling. The training regime also helped to restore a certain degree of independence to participants’ everyday lives,” she noted. Sarcopenia can be easily diagnosed with a grip test at a pharmacy or during a consultation with a GP.

Muscle gain boosts brain function and immune system while reducing tumour formation and cancer risk

Targeted muscle gain in people of all ages has a positive effect on the brain and immune system. Prof. Wessner used muscle biopsies to demonstrate that skeletal muscle communicates with the rest of the body via chemical messengers known as myokines. Similar to hormones, they trigger responses in the brain, the immune system and other organs. “It was found that nerve cells are stimulated to network more closely with each other. Tumour formation and cancer risk decline and blood sugar levels stabilise. The immune system is also boosted because communication between muscles and the immune system is intensified. Regular exercise can help delay, or even prevent, neurodegenerative changes in the brain, immune diseases and cardio-vascular conditions,” Barbara Wessner noted. Exercise-induced myokines such as IL-6 are secreted by the skeletal muscles and appear to be involved in mediating inflammation and boosting metabolisation of fat. In short, strong muscles are essential for good physical and mental health.

Simple key to improving personal wellbeing: 10,000 steps per day and two resistance training sessions a week

Wessner recommends regular exercise for anyone looking to reap the benefits of good muscle function. Simply taking 10,000 steps a day is enough to trigger positive health effects. This can either be integrated into everyday life or achieved through 150-300 minutes of moderate endurance training per week. Such activity should also be supplemented by regular resistance training: “Strength training should occur twice a week. After a period of adjustment, I recommend 8-12 repetitions in one to two sets where the individual really puts the muscles to work and feels a slight burn,” Wessner added. One point is particularly important to her: “Everyone is responsible for making sure that they stay independent for as long as possible. There are so many forms of exercise out there that there is something for everyone – it’s not only a question of being healthy, it’s also about people enjoying themselves.”

About the ECSS Congress
The ECSS Congress is the world’s largest multidisciplinary sports science congress. It will take place in Vienna for the first time from 6-9 July under the banner of ‘Crossing Borders Through Sport Science’. During the event almost 2,700 sports scientists will converge on the Austria Center Vienna to network and discuss the latest developments in their disciplines. Organised by the European College of Sport Science for the 21st time this year, the 2016 event will play out under the patronage of Congress President Prof. Arnold Baca.

Press release
Panorama Austria Center Vienna (c) IAKW-AG, Martin Benik
Congress with participants (c) IAKW-AG, Ludwig Schedl
Assoc.-Prof. DI Dr. Barbara Wessner (c) Foto Wilke
Logo ECSS (c) ECSS

Internationales Amtssitz- und Konferenzzentrum Wien, Aktiengesellschaft (IAKW-AG) is responsible for maintaining the Vienna International Centre (VIC) and operating the Austria Center Vienna. The Austria Center Vienna is Austria’s largest conference centre, with 24 halls, 180 offices and meeting rooms, and some 22,000 square metres of exhibition space, and is one of the top players on the international conference circuit. IAKW-AG and the Austria Center Vienna are headed by Chief Executive Officer Susanne Baumann-Söllner.

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Elena Hajek
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