Feature on healthy aging, health challenges of elderly
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Thursday, September 3, 2015
Supplements, Exercise Could Improve Muscle Mass and Strength for Older Adults
Rick Sharp is working with older adults to see if a combination of supplements and resistance training can slow the progression of sarcopenia. Photo by Christopher Gannon, Iowa State University
September 3, 2015– The loss of muscle strength and function, what’s known as
sarcopenia, is a natural part of aging. It’s also a growing public health
concern because of the risk for falls, injury and decline in quality of life.
That’s why an Iowa State University researcher is working to slow or reverse
the progression of sarcopenia.
Sharp, a professor of kinesiology, is testing the effectiveness of a
combination of supplements and resistance training in older adults with low
vitamin D levels.
The trial is designed to build on previous studies, which
show that the supplement HMB reduces muscle loss. HMB, or
b-hydroxy-b-methylbutyrate, is a natural body building compound discovered by
Iowa State researchers.
not everyone in those studies benefited equally from HMB and weight training,
Sharp said. Researchers determined older adults who didn’t respond as well to
the supplement had something in common – lower levels of vitamin D.
says lower vitamin D is common in climates in which people do not get
year-round exposure to the sun. Both HMB and vitamin D are in foods we normally
eat and available as supplements. The goal of the study is to see if vitamin D
will improve response to HMB and resistance training, increasing muscle mass
know that sarcopenia is so predictable in older adults that anything we can do
that slows down the progression and/or reverses it, is going to be effective,”
“If all we were to do is prevent their muscle mass and function
from dropping, we’ve already had a real positive impact. Even if it doesn’t
improve by 10, 15, 20 percent, they’re not losing it and that’s just as good.”
No magic pill
stresses the importance of exercise and resistance training as we age. It’s not
just aging that contributes to sarcopenia, he said, it’s aging and reduced
activity. His research on vitamin D and HMB is intended to boost exercise
results by providing appropriate nutritional support, not create a magic pill.
no substitute for physical activity. We have to stay physically active through
the lifespan,” Sharp said.
“We think nutrition is a key component in helping to
ensure that older adults get a better response from exercise.”
monitor response, some study participants will continue with their normal
exercise and daily routine. Others will attend on-campus exercise sessions,
designed and conducted by ISU researchers.
Sharp says the workouts incorporate
resistance bands and weight machines, and target all major muscle groups to
improve balance and strength.
we get older our activities of daily living really depend on proper functioning
of all those muscle groups working together,” Sharp said.
cognizant of the risk of falls with the older individuals. One way to reduce
falls and injury from falls is to improve balance and coordination and the
ability to catch yourself when you stumble. That requires good reaction time
and the ability to generate the amount of force to catch yourself before you
Participants still needed
changes won’t happen overnight, which is why researchers will track each
individual’s muscle mass and strength for a year. Sharp says it will take
several years to complete the testing before he can analyze the results. A
total of 160 participants – 80 men and 80 women – are needed for the study.