Taking up exercise in your 70s or 80s can still have major benefits even after a lifetime on the couch, a study has found. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

London - Taking up exercise in your 70s or 80s can still have major benefits even after a lifetime on the couch, a study has found.

Experts discovered that elderly participants who had never done structured exercise before still benefited from gym sessions. Surprisingly, they had the same ability to build muscle as highly-trained "master athletes" of the same age.

Researchers said even walking up stairs can pay dividends.

The University of Birmingham scientists compared muscle-building ability in two groups of elderly men. The first were the athletes – seven lifelong exercisers in their 70s and 80s.

In the second were eight healthy individuals of a similar age, who had never tried structured exercise.

Each participant drank an isotope tracer – which shows how proteins develop in muscle – before doing weight-training. Samples taken in the 48-hour periods just before and after the session showed both groups had an equal capacity to build muscle.

The study was published in the Frontiers in Physiology journal.

Research leader Dr Leigh Breen said: "Our study clearly shows that it doesn’t matter if you haven’t been a regular exerciser throughout your life, you can still derive benefit from exercise whenever you start."

While Dr Breen stressed that a "long-term commitment" to exercise was the best approach, starting later in life still helped "delay age-related frailty".

He added: "What’s needed is more specific guidance on how individuals can improve muscle strength, even outside of a gym-setting through activities undertaken in their homes – activities such as gardening, walking up and down stairs, or lifting up a shopping bag can all help..."

Daily Mail