Brain and nerves, not muscles, may hold the key to age-related weakness

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Aging is a natural process that’s often accompanied by a decline in physical abilities. One of the most noticeable changes is a decrease in muscle strength.

But what if it’s not just about the muscles? A new study from Ohio University suggests that age-related weakness might be more about the brain and nerves rather than the muscles.

Study Details: Muscle Strength and Nervous System

The study involved 66 older adults with an average age in their 70s. They were divided into three groups based on their physical test performance.

In the test, the participants were asked to exert as much strength as they could with their leg muscles against resistance. When they felt they’d reached their limit, their muscles were then electrically stimulated.

If the muscle could generate more force with this stimulation, it suggested that the limitation of strength was coming from somewhere other than the muscle – potentially from the nervous system.

Findings: Nervous System and Weakness

The findings were interesting. The weaker the participants, the more their muscles benefitted from electrical stimulation.

For example, those in the severely weak group received a 14.2% increase in force from the stimulation, which was twice the increase shown by the strong group (7.1%).

This suggests that the nervous system plays a significant role in age-related weakness.

Implications and Potential Interventions

These findings could be crucial for tackling the loss of muscle strength often seen in older adults, which can significantly impact their mobility.

Brian Clark, the study’s lead researcher, explained that muscles can only generate force if they are activated by nerves, which send signals from the brain and spinal cord.

If the nervous system’s ability to activate muscles becomes impaired, it could result in physical weakness.

While more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between the nervous system and muscle function during aging, the findings suggest that interventions to counter age-related weakness should focus not only on the muscles but also on the nervous system.

Exercise is currently the most effective method for maintaining muscle strength in older adults.

However, the authors of the study recommend designing exercise programs that also challenge the nervous system, like balance training.

They further suggest that treatments aimed at improving nerve function, like nerve stimulation, could potentially address age-related weakness.


In sum, the study presents strong evidence that the nervous system plays a crucial role in age-related weakness.

This insight could lead to the development of new interventions to improve the mobility and quality of life of older adults.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and Vitamin B supplements could help reduce dementia risk.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies that high-fiber diet could help lower the dementia risk, and these antioxidants could help reduce dementia risk.

This research was published in JAMA Network Open and was conducted by Brian Clark and his team.

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