Understanding how to maintain healthy muscles now and in later life

March 22, 2023

Around 340 people joined MyAge – a UK wide research network, the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Center (MRCLEC) and EpiGen teams from the University of Southampton to measure their muscle strength and hear how the choices they make now can impact on their health in later life. 

Participants measured their grip strength using a handheld dynamometer and plotted their results anonymously next to their age and gender on a giant chart designed by the University of Southampton’s MRCLEC.  

This activity took place at the University of Southampton’s Science and Engineering Day (SOTSEF) on Saturday 18th March as part of British Science Week 2023.

Participants were invited to play an interactive ball game that demonstrates the importance of environmental factors, showing how our choices now may improve muscle health in older age. They also explored challenging topics such as why do we lose strength and mobility as we age, why this happens to some people earlier than others and how we can help to mitigate the impact of any ‘less healthy genes’ by the way we live our lives. 

Dr Mark Burton, MyAge member and Research Fellow in Human Development and Health at the University of Southampton explained:  

“We were delighted by how many people, of all ages, engaged with our stand throughout the day, from young school children through to middle aged and older adults. The visitors were keen to measure their muscle strength and to learn about the importance of maintaining muscle function throughout the life course, as well as how making healthy decisions can play a protective role.  

“As a scientist who mainly engages with muscle cells in the lab, it was a great privilege to hear from so many young people about what they believe is important when investing in their health and that of future generations. Many younger people talked about physical education at school and how they enjoyed playing sports, whilst a number of older participants attributed a high grip strength score to previous sports they had taken part in through their life.  

“All participants showed an impressive willingness to learn about healthy choices as well as important themes around gender, lifestyle challenges and opportunity.” 

With over 600 muscles in our bodies that work together to control movement and perform many other important functions, maintaining muscle health is essential to being active. 

MyAge is a national network of over 80 members, most of which are University academics working in the field of muscle research. It’s funded by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Biological and Biotechnology Skills Research Council (BBSRC) and Medical Research Council (MRC). 

MyAge is made up of scientists across many different disciplines who test and analyse complex problems, bringing new groups of researchers together, along with fresh perspectives on how best to maintain muscle health. 

Professor Carolyn Greig, Professor of Musculoskeletal Ageing and Health, University of Birmingham and Co Director of MyAge added. “Ageing is a ‘wicked’ problem, as many more people are living longer but in poorer health. This is complex and difficult for researchers, medics and policy makers to address.  

 “MyAge is taking a ‘lifecourse’ approach because we realise that what we do as younger adults may have implications for our older selves. So it’s great that MyAge members like Dr Mark Burton and team from the University of Southampton are engaging with families and the wider community to help more people understand these really important issues.   

“We also hope to inspire future generations to go into this important area of research to bring all their skills to help tackle some of the big challenges of ageing.”