Fighting muscle weakness when we get old

TUSPFSP-newscat-exercisebiology, Sport- und Gesundheitswissenschaften |

[Translate to en:] Lithuanian Sports University in Kaunas
[Translate to en:] Lithuanian Sports University in Kaunas
[Translate to en:] Figure 1. Programme of the symposium “Fighting muscle weakness when we get old”.
[Translate to en:] Figure 1. Programme of the symposium “Fighting muscle weakness when we get old”.

On Friday the 23rd of November, the Symposium “Fighting muscle weakness when we get old” took place at the Lithuanian Sports University in Kaunas. This symposium were hold the first time on the topic of Sarcopenia which is a disease increasing in aging societies. Together, Aivaras Ratkevicius and Henning Wackerhage hosted this meeting, funded by the Baltisch-Deutsches Hochschulkontor.

Why this symposium?

Low birth rates, and a still increasing life expectancy have increased the median age of many European populations. As a consequence, Germans and Lithuanians have among the highest median ages in Europe and worldwide. This is a great challenge as fewer young need to provide the pension, health care and care costs of an expanding population of older citizens. One strategy is to keep the elderly fit, healthy and independent for as long as possible. This has two obvious advantages. First, it reduces health and care costs and second it improves the quality of life. The main interventions to keep the elderly fit and health are exercise and diet (Wackerhage, 2017). This is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that even those that are over 85 years of age can use resistance training (i.e. weight lifting) to increase their muscle mass and strength (Kryger and Andersen, 2007). As we do relevant research both in Munich and Lithuania, we decided to plan symposia on muscle ageing which has been termed sarcopenia (Rosenberg, 1997).

What were the topics of the presentations?

The symposium started with a longer, introductory talk by Prof Henning Wackerhage, TUM. The aim of this talk was to set the scene by introducing sarcopenia, discuss its causes and to show how age-adjusted resistance exercise and diet (esp. increased protein intake) can be used to preserve or increase muscle mass and function in the elderly. The following speakers then presented their research. Prof Tomas Venckunas (LSU) presented on combined resistance and endurance training which is important, because whilst resistance training increases muscle mass and function it is the endurance exercise that mainly controls risk factors for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. Dr Stuart Gray (University of Glasgow) made a Videolink presentation where he first presented the data of his recent study on half a million of UK citizens that strength is associated with low morbidity and mortality (Celis-Morales et al., 2018). He then discussed whether fish oil can help to maintain muscle mass in the elderly. Next Prof Aivaras Raktevicius presented data on caloric restriction. Caloric restriction extends lifespan but there is a question whether it decreases muscle mass in the long term or has no effect. This is clearly an important research question in this field. Next Prof Sigidas Kamandulis (LSU) presented work of an international collaboration on high intensity training in the elderly. High intensity training is a strategy to quickly achieve exercise benefits and it may be a useful exercise strategy for some elderly. Finally Dr Arimantas Lionikas (University of Aberdeen but originally from Lithuania) presented on the genetics muscle muscle mass. This is important topic because we know that muscle mass varies a lot and it would be perhaps be very useful to identify “fast or poor agers” early on to delay muscle ageing through exercise and diet interventions. Afterwards the speakers answered various questions from the over 80 audience members and then finished the meeting by thanking the sponsors and organisers.

What next?

Research on how to deal with population ageing in Germany and Lithuania is clearly important and here collaborative research projects are highly desirable. We should therefore continue with these meetings and ensure collaboration on sarcopenia-focussed projects between TUM and LSU. We could request funding from Baltisch-Deutsches Hochschulkontor and Erasmus plus as well as other funders to facilitate this. Moreover, population ageing is one of the greatest political challenges in the future and for that reason we should try to engage politicians to recommend strategies for healthy ageing that are based on the best possible evidence.


Celis-Morales, C.A., Welsh, P., Lyall, D.M., Steell, L., Petermann, F., Anderson, J., Iliodromiti, S., Sillars, A., Graham, N., Mackay, D.F., et al. (2018). Associations of grip strength with cardiovascular, respiratory, and cancer outcomes and all cause mortality: prospective cohort study of half a million UK Biobank participants. BMJ (Clinical research ed ) 361, k1651.

Kryger, A.I., and Andersen, J.L. (2007). Resistance training in the oldest old: consequences for muscle strength, fiber types, fiber size, and MHC isoforms. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports 17, 422-430.

Rosenberg, I.H. (1997). Sarcopenia: origins and clinical relevance. JNutr 127, 990S-991S.

Wackerhage, H. (2017). Sarcopenia: causes and treatments. German J Sports Med 68, 178-184.