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Just Two Weeks of Inactivity Severely Lessens Muscle Strength

When someone becomes injured, there’s often a rehabilitation period during which time they’re immobilized. A recent study suggests that it only takes two weeks of not using their legs for a young person to lose a third of their muscle strength, which puts them at the strength level of someone who is 40 to 50 years older.

Participants in the study included 17 young men who were between 21 and 24 years old as well as 15 older men who were between 67 and 69 years old. All of the men had one leg immobilized for two weeks, using an immobilization pad. The two weeks of immobilization were followed by a six-week endurance-training program that included bicycle training three to four times per week for six weeks.

At the end of the immobilization period, the young men had lost an average 485 grams of muscle mass, while the older men lost an average 250 grams. The younger men lost more muscle mass because they started with more. However the researchers pointed out that losing muscle mass is actually more detrimental to older people than younger people, because it is likely to have a greater impact on their general health and quality of life.

The researchers also found that bicycle training wasn’t sufficient to bring the previously immobilized legs back to their original strength. It did however help them regain some of the lost muscle mass and return to their previous fitness level. They recommended weight training in order to regain strength.

Researchers from the Center for Healthy Aging and the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen conducted the study. It was published online ahead of print on April 21, 2015, in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine.

Staying active is important for more than just muscle strength. Previous clinical studies suggest that even moderate exercise can reduce the risk of dying prematurely, help with blood sugar control, reduce body weight, improve heart health and improve respiratory health. Even a brisk ten-minute walk a day can help.

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