The trick to muscles that keep you going and going

Can you imagine competing in track and field championships in your 80s and 90s? If you answered no, I’m here to tell you that people do it. You don’t have to — but you may want to share their strength and stamina…

These super seniors have found the fountain of youth… one that was right in front of our noses the whole time: exercise.

Yes, I’m sure you already know that exercise is important. But do you really understand how important?

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Muscles help you maintain your independence

A new study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that older adults who were elite athletes in their youth (or later in their life) — and still practice extreme athleticism today — are maintaining muscle mass like nobody’s business.

“These are individuals in their 80s and 90s who actively compete in world masters track and field championships. We have seven world champions,” said Geoff Power, a University of Guelph professor and lead researcher in the study. “These individuals are the crème de la crème of aging,”

If you’re over 60, you know that muscle weakening is a huge problem as you age. But these master athletes are defying what conventional wisdom says is possible by staying 25 percent stronger and maintaining 14 percent more muscle mass than their non-athletic counterparts.

The study also found that these older athletes had close to one-third more motor units in their leg than older adults who weren’t athletic. Motor units are made up of nerve and muscle fibers and are usually lost at a heightened speed after the age of 60. More motor units means more muscle mass and strength… which means more mobility — and freedom — as you age.

“Identifying opportunities to intervene and delay the loss of motor units in old age is of critical importance,” said Power. “Exercise is definitely an important contributor to functional performance.”

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You don’t have to be an elite athlete to thrive in older age

Most of us have no desire to ever be a master athlete, but you probably want to maintain your independence well into your senior years. So, though these super seniors may not be the norm, they are a reminder that if you want to stay strong and healthy as you age — you’ve got to keep your body moving.

Walking is a good form of exercise — and you should walk if you’re unable to jog or run as the super seniors do. But walking won’t have the same effect on your muscles. Walking just doesn’t foster the same changes in your muscles that running does. But you can fix that by adding some weight…

Spanish researchers studied people over the age of 90 who lifted weights twice a week and found that these seniors gained muscle mass while improving strength and power. People in the study who couldn’t stand up or get out of a chair could walk by the end of the three-month study.

Remember, do what works for you, but try to boost those muscles in the process.

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and