A growing body of research indicates that the effects of physical activity, especially from an early age, may have more beneficial effects than was believed on the maintenance or recovery of muscle mass.
When we talk about biking or swimming, we emphasize that it is a learning that the body never forgets, no matter what the years go by. Now, a review published last week in the journal Frontiers In Physiology indicates that something similar could happen with the memory of muscle mass, especially if we perform exercise in the early phase of life.
In the journal Lawrence Schwartz, professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts, he describes the evidence for this real “muscle memory” as demonstrated in models of animals and insects. Although the results are not yet directly comparable with humans, the expert highlights its promising character.
From the journal Healthline they explain that muscles are special cells because they are incredibly plastic: they can grow or shrink at will depending on the living conditions. In this way, physical exercise can cause hypertrophy or muscle growth, which results in muscle fibers that can be 100,000 times larger than an average cell in the body, while malnutrition or a sedentary lifestyle can make the muscles contract due to the phenomenon of atrophy.
Although individual cells contain only one nucleus, cell growth can not be sustained by a single nucleus in the process of muscle growth, so cells actively recruit the nuclei of surrounding cells. The opposite effect also happens: the nuclei are extinguished if the muscle contracts. Now, the Schwartz study argues that nuclei must maintain a certain proportion with the volume of the muscle cell: hypertrophy requires more nuclei, while atrophy requires less.
According to the research reviewed by Schwartz, the evidence suggests that these additional cores actually persist through atrophy, allowing individuals to “accumulate” these extra cores in their muscle cells to be used later in life. “If this is generalizable and it seems that it is, then once you acquire a nucleus you can maintain it, being much easier to acquire those nuclei when you are young and you are in shape,” Schwartz told Healthline.
The scientist explained that at this moment “you have a group of stem cell cells or satellite cells, which can contribute their nuclei to the muscle”. Although this research is still in the early stages, other studies have found evidence of muscle “memory”. Last year, a study involving eight human subjects found that muscles can develop certain genetic markers during exercise that can help muscle growth. That is, if you have done sport in the past you will have more facility to recover the lost muscle than those who have never done it before.
Understanding how to improve muscle growth could help improve the health of countless patients. Muscle atrophy related to aging, known as sarcopenia, cerebrovascular accidents, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or sedentary behavior are associated with several health problems. Research like this can be an additional impulse to encourage the practice of physical exercise as a way to increase life expectancy and longevity.