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By Erik Gunn

In matching special exercises with aging populations, a distinguished interdisciplinary team aims for remarkable improvements in muscle performance.

It’s a question that his colleague, Dr. Sandra Hunter, has been considering as well during the course of a career as an exercise scientist who also has worked with athletes and the general population while paying special attention to the exercise needs of the elderly.

Fitts and Hunter are co-investigators on a five-year project that will explore if systematically encouraging older people to exercise — and, more important, to exercise in ways different from those of younger people — can help them stay stronger longer. Funded by a $2.8 million National Institutes of Health grant, the project will combine the everyday with the cutting edge. Two groups of people in their 70s and 80s will perform either a traditional strength training program or a program

Fitts is a professor of biological sciences in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences and Hunter a professor of exercise science at the College of Health Sciences.

But isn’t slowing down just the price of growing older? “It doesn’t have to happen,” says Fitts, at least nowhere near as drastically as it does. Yes, people do slow down and do less with age. But, he adds, “if you look at especially sedentary populations like ours, the problems are very much exacerbated and are considerably worse than in areas where people are generally more active. So I think that’s sort of a defeatist attitude to say, ‘Well, we’re all getting old … forget about it.’ ” Hunter’s own doctoral research showed her how much staying active can help older people preserve strength and stamina. She studied a sample of about 250 women, dividing them into more active and less active groups. For those who were less active, simple tasks such as getting out

aging muscles unbound

Professor, Exercise Science

Slowing down with age, says Fitts, doesn’t have to happen anywhere near as drastically as it usually does.

Dr. Sandra Hunter

Now he has turned to a new set of questions — one closely related to his earlier work yet much closer to home: Why do people fatigue so easily when they get older, and what can be done to prevent that?

designed to stress the muscle for a long period during each contraction. That’s the more familiar part. The cutting-edge part will be the use of high-tech tools to examine the muscle cells and nervous system of the two groups to find out what difference the workouts made.

RESEARCHER

RESEARCHER

Dr. Robert Fitts

Professor, Biological Sciences

Marquette biologist Dr. Robert Fitts spent most of his professional life studying how human muscles atrophy in outer space zero gravity. Working with NASA and international space organizations, he helped combat the muscle wasting that was the astronaut’s occupational hazard.

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Discover Magazine 2016  
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