How do we keep muscles healthy and vital as long as possible? And what changes do muscles go through as we grow older? Bart Lagerwaard, PhD-researcher at the Human and Animal Physiology Group from Wageningen University & Research, is looking for the answers to these questions. With an infrared device, no bigger than a matchbox, he wants to measure the muscle ageing process.
In our ageing society, it is becoming more and more important to know how to keep muscles young and vital. After all, healthy muscles will enable the elderly to live actively and self-reliantly. Currently, however, there is a lack of research into what type of exercise is most proficient. Research into muscle ageing is costly and invasive: either a piece of muscle has to be removed from the upper leg, or an expensive MRI scan in the hospital is required.
PhD-researcher Bart Lagerwaard is doing research into energy consumption in the muscle using a technology called Near-Infrared Spectroscopy. A small infrared device is placed on the skin and measures the oxygen levels in the muscle after exercise 10 times per second. This allows for the measurement of the recovery capacity of the muscle cells. These measurements reflect the resilience of muscle cells.
Lagerwaard learned all about it at the University of Georgia (USA) and is the first to introduce this technology in the Netherlands. He has already successfully tested the method on young men and is now looking into how people can keep their muscles healthy as they grow older. To that end, Lagerwaard’s current study compares the muscles of young men (19-25) to those of older men (65-71). That way, he is hoping to find out more about how ageing changes the muscle. Follow-up research can then shed light on which type of exercise is most proficient to counteract this process.
Lagerwaard has high hopes for the technology: “I believe that even your mobile phone can perform these types of measurements in the future. And it would be even better if gyms or other facilities are equipped with devices that can signal the quality of energy consumption in muscles at an early stage. It will make a world of difference if the elderly know in advance about the health and vitality of their muscles.”