As the population ages, it seems natural more seniors will come to massage therapy. Massage therapists who work with older clients may have noticed those clients’ comparative physical weakness.

New research sheds light on why aging can mean increased frailty and loss of muscle strength.

In a paper published online in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston researchers present evidence that indicates the aging-weakness link may be found in the way the network of blood vessels that threads through muscles responds to the hormone insulin.

Normally, these tiny tubes are closed, but when a young person eats a meal and insulin is released into the bloodstream, they open wide to allow nutrients to reach muscle cells. In elderly people, however, insulin has no such vasodilating effect, according to a university press release.

“We were unsure as to whether decreased vasodilation was just one of the side effects of aging or was one of the main causes of the reduction in muscle protein synthesis in elderly people, because when nutrients and insulin get into muscle fibers, they also turn on lots of intracellular signals linked to muscle growth,” said UTMB’s Dr. Elena Volpi, senior author of the paper. “This research really demonstrates that vasodilation is a necessary mechanism for insulin to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

“Eventually, if we can improve muscle growth in response to feeding in old people by improving blood flow, then we’re going to have a major tool to reduce muscle loss with aging, which by itself is associated with reduction in physical functioning and increased risk of disability,” Volpi said.

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• Is a Geriatric Massage Specialty Right For You?

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