Blood Flow-restricted Resistance Exercise Could Help Counteract Age-related Muscle Loss

Rockville, Md. (May 24, 2023)—Low-load blood flow-restricted resistance exercise (BFRRE), a form of strength training during which a pressure cuff partially restricts blood flow to the target muscle group, has been growing in popularity. New research out of Aarhus University in Denmark suggests that this exercise technique could reduce age-related muscle loss. The study is published ahead of print in the Journal of Applied Physiology. It was chosen as an APSselect article for May.

“These findings advocate for the use of BFRRE as a highly effective countermeasure to age-related loss of muscle mass and strength.”

The ability to maintain muscle mass and function as we age is associated with improved quality of life, metabolic health and longevity. BFRRE allows users to build muscle mass while avoiding the injury risk that comes with heavier weights.

Researchers split 23 healthy, older adults who did not typically participate in high-intensity physical activity into two groups. One group participated in a six-week BFRRE program, while a group of control volunteers maintained their current daily activity level.

Before and after the intervention, researchers evaluated both groups for muscle strength and endurance. They used dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scans to measure body composition and took biopsies of the participants’ thigh muscles.

The exercise group completed four sets of bilateral knee extensions (until they tired) three times a week under supervision. Researchers calibrated weight load to 30% of each person’s maximum capacity and adjusted it three times over the course of the study. Researchers also determined individualized levels of blood flow-restricting pressure for each participant, averaging 97 millimeters of mercury. On average, a full session took less than seven minutes.

The exercise group saw improvements in multiple measures of muscle strength and endurance, including an improvement in walking capacity. In the biopsies, the cross-sectional area of both slow- and fast-twitch muscles also increased in size. The control group saw no such changes.

“Notably, since these results were obtained with a modest exercise volume and in a very time-efficient manner, BFRRE may represent a potent exercise strategy to counteract age-related muscle decay,” researchers wrote.

Read the full article, “Low-load blood flow-restricted resistance exercise produces fiber type-independent hypertrophy and improves muscle functional capacity in older individuals,” published ahead of print in the Journal of Applied Physiology. It is highlighted as one of this month’s “best of the best” as part of the American Physiological Society’s APSselect program. Read all of this month’s selected research articles

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: To schedule an interview with a member of the research team, please contact APS Media Relations or call 301.634.7314. Find more research highlights in our Newsroom.

Physiology is a broad area of scientific inquiry that focuses on how molecules, cells, tissues and organs function in health and disease. The American Physiological Society connects a global, multidisciplinary community of more than 10,000 biomedical scientists and educators as part of its mission to advance scientific discovery, understand life and improve health. The Society drives collaboration and spotlights scientific discoveries through its 16 scholarly journals and programming that support researchers and educators in their work.

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