Periods of inactivity, due to a sedentary lifestyle or a hospitalization, could have a greater impact on the lower limbs of older people than on younger people.

This inactivity could dramatically enhance the decline in muscle mass, metabolic health, and functional capacity, and could be especially detrimental to the elderly, according to researchers.

The study, conducted by the University of Udine in conjunction with the University of Padova, was published recently in The Journal of Physiology.

In their study, the research team compared the impact of complete inactivity among a group of elderly participants who spent 2 weeks in a hospital with a group of young participants.

The elderly participants experienced a difference in single muscle fiber response to disuse, a more pronounced loss of muscle mass, and a change in how muscle contraction is controlled by the nervous system, compared to the young participants. Furthermore, the recovery phase was more difficult for the elderly participants, explains a media release from The Physiological Society.

Lead investigator Carlo Reggiani states that, “The results obtained are relevant not only to understand the inactivity-dependent enhancement of the decline (in muscle mass, metabolic health, and functional capacity) but also to design new rehabilitation protocols where timing and intensity of the sessions are optimized.”

The researchers state in the release that it is important to note that the study was carried out on healthy elderly subjects. However, the loss may be greater and the recovery more difficult in patients with diseases.

They plan to follow up this study by investigating the impairment of neural motor control on skeletal muscles, as an altered motor control was suggested when measuring the electrical activity of the muscles.

[Source: The Physiological Society]