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Weights Pump Up Sex Hormones in Muscles of Older Men


Older men may not need testosterone replacement therapy if they do strength training, according to a new study from Japan. The study found that progressive resistance training significantly restored sex steroid hormone production in older men. Interestingly, the increased hormone production was found in the muscles themselves—rather than the gonads and adrenal cortex—and correlated with muscle size and strength.

Lead author Koji Sato, PhD, and colleagues from Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, recruited 13 men with a mean age of 67.2 years and six men with a mean age of 24.3. The men were moderately active, but did not regularly perform resistance training. The older men entered into a progressive resistance training program, while the young men served as controls.

The older men did leg extensions and leg curls 3 times a week, beginning with 70% of their one rep maximum; poundages were adjusted every 4 weeks to track strength and maintain overload. The program lasted 12 weeks.

At the beginning of the study, biopsies were taken from the quadriceps of all subjects, young and old, to measure levels of sex steroid hormones in all subjects at baseline. The same measurements were taken in the older men at the completion of the weight training program. Hormones in the blood and quadriceps size and strength were also compared before and after the training.

As expected, there was a major difference between the two groups of men at the beginning of the study. The older men had much lower levels of sex steroid hormones (DHEA, DHT, free testosterone) and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1); the difference was in both the blood and the muscles. The older men also had smaller and weaker quadriceps. Happily, 12 weeks of resistance training significantly closed the gap in all areas.

DHEA in the muscle, 1569 in the young subjects at baseline, improved from 666 to 841 in the older subjects after resistance training. Free testosterone, 18.2 in the young men, went up from 8.18 to 10.6 in the older men after RT. DHT, 132 in the young men, increased from 47 to 56. Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), 201.6 in the younger men, increased from 112.1 to 120.3.

In the blood, however, the older men significantly increased DHEA and DHT after training, but not free testosterone or insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). The difference may relate to the fact that increased hormone production was in the muscles rather than the gonads, which may be especially beneficial to some older men. (See below)

Finally, quadriceps strength and size also increased significantly in the older men after weight training.

Addressing the effects of their findings, Sato et al wrote, “Resistance training-induced increase in muscular sex steroid hormone may positively affect age-related concerns such as accidental falls, diabetes, sarcopenia, and osteoporosis and may improve the quality of life for older individuals.”

Asked to comment on the study by Medscape Medical News, Jakob Vingren, PhD, an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of North Texas Denton, said that the results reinforce the importance of resistance training. “There are definitely benefits to aerobic exercises and there are definitely benefits to resistance training, and they combine, but there are unique benefits to both,” he explained.

Dr. Vingren added that men who are on testosterone-deprivation therapy, for example, for prostate and other cancers, might particularly benefit from resistance training, since these findings indicate it could help strengthen them without increasing their blood testosterone.

For more details read the full report published online January 17, 2014, in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

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If 12 weeks of progressive weight training can produce results like the above, imagine what a lifetime of strength and endurance training can do. Professor Joe Signorile may have provided the answer in Bending the Aging Curve, his comprehensive book on exercise and aging.

Signorile includes many tables and graphs, but the one that sums up the message best is a graph showing the neuromuscular aging curves for the untrained person, for the person who starts exercising at about 40, and finally the trajectory of men and women who have been exercising their entire life. The differences are stunning. The capacity of exercise to bend the aging curve is awesome.

The loss of neuromuscular function for untrained individuals begins in earnest at about 40 and drops more and more rapidly with each passing decade; the decline is exponential. The person who begins exercising at 40 shows a relatively flat curve until about 60, and then begins a slow decline. The lifelong exerciser, however, soars above the others at every decade of life. The regular exerciser will have a curve that begins at a much higher level than the other two—and stays there. The inevitable decline that does occur leaves the 75-year-old lifelong exerciser at a level equivalent to an untrained person at 20. At 90, the lifelong trainer is at a level equivalent to an untrained person 30 years younger 

If that doesn’t make you want to exercise, strength and endurance, nothing will.  

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