A carefully framed combination of moderate exercise and nutritional supplements could help older people maintain an active lifestyle for longer.

A Manchester Metropolitan University study has found that taking carbohydrate and protein supplements just before and just after low-resistance exercise could boost muscle performance and slow muscle wastage in people over retirement age.

Moreover, this combination appears to deliver greater fitness benefits than undertaking heavy-resistance training with or without changing one’s nutritional habits.

This was the first-ever study of the combination of structured exercise and nutritional supplements to focus wholly on older people. Undertaken as part of the SPARC (Strategic Promotion of Ageing Research Capacity) initiative, the findings will be discussed at this year’s BA Festival of Science in Liverpool on Thursday 11th September. SPARC is supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

This groundbreaking study involved a carefully selected sample of around 60 healthy, independent-living adults aged 65 and over.

The volunteers were randomly divided into groups who underwent different 12 week programmes of physical exercise and nutritional supplementation. Everyone was then re-assessed at the end of the programme.

Some groups undertook low-resistance exercise once a week; others undertook high-resistance exercise twice a week. Within each group, some of the volunteers took protein and carbohydrate supplements while others did not.

When all the participants were re-assessed at the end of the 12 week programme, it was observed that muscle size and strength had increased in all groups.

However, the results suggested that older people would derive the most benefits if they took appropriate supplements coupled with low-intensity exercise.

“Maintaining muscle performance and arresting muscle wastage can offer older people real improvements in their quality of life,” says Dr Gladys Pearson, who led the research. “Though we still need to assess precisely what level of exercise gives the best results, we believe we’ve shown that regular low-resistance exercise complemented by the right nutritional supplements could boost the well-being of the UK’s ageing population.”

Dr Pearson and her team now aim to look at the effectiveness of novel combinations of strength training and nutritional supplementation as a way of speeding recovery and improving mobility for old and young orthopaedic surgery patients.

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