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Reversing the ageing process.
BBSRC at the Edinburgh International Science Festival 2005

1 April 2005

Visitors to the Edinburgh International Science Festival will have an opportunity to learn what science can tell us about how our muscles age and what we can do to reverse the effects when the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) visits Ocean Terminal on the first weekend (April 2-3) of the festival.

Researchers funded by BBSRC have found that regular gentle exercise by older people can help them to have the muscle strength of a much younger person. An active 80-year old can have the same muscle strength as a sedentary 20-year old. The research, carried out at Manchester Metropolitan University, showed that a person’s muscle structure changes as they grow older and that their tendons stretch more. This makes older people more susceptible to injuries and aching joints. Taking regular light exercise was found to offset this by boosting muscle performance, increasing the stability, strength and power of the participants and by stiffening the tendons to the level of a much younger person.

With increased stability, strength and power older people can remain mobile, independent and active for longer and are less likely to fall and injure themselves.

BBSRC will be at Ocean Terminal during normal opening hours on both Saturday and Sunday with interactive information boards about the research and will be joined by representatives from Age Concern Scotland and Edinburgh Leisure’s Get up and go programme who will give suggestions on how older people can lead more active lives and give details of the opportunities for older people to get involved in activities across the Edinburgh area.

Dr Susan Gilchrist from BBSRC said, “We are not suggesting intensive training, but it is worth considering that as we get older a little light exercise can help our muscles stay strong so they can look after us as we continue to age. Visitors to the science festival will be able to see how their muscles change as they get older and what you can do to turn back the muscle ageing clock.”


Notes to editors

BBSRC will be at Ocean Terminal (Festival venue 7) 10am – 7pm Saturday 2 April and 11am – 6pm Sunday 3 April.

The research explored muscles structure using ultrasound technology and showed that as we get older, fibres in our muscles re-organise themselves and the muscles become weaker. Our tendons compensate for this loss of strength by increasing their elasticity, but this places more pressure on our joints – making it harder for them to work properly and often leading to aches and pains.

By comparing the muscles of older people that do exercise with those that don’t, the scientists found that a little light exercise - such as resistance training (e.g. weights, wheels or strong elastic bands), aerobic activity (dancing) and postural training (pilates or tai chi) - can help maintain the muscle structure as we age. This helps our joints function properly, helping us react quickly should we slip and protects the joints should we fall. It also means that our joints are under less pressure, and we suffer less from aches and pains, especially in cold weather.

The research has been carried out in association with the European Union, the European Space Agency.


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

About the Edinburgh International Science Festival

The Edinburgh International Science Festival is the world's first and Europe 's largest public celebration of science and technology. It is made up of around 130 entertaining, fun-filled events for adults and children. There are hands-on activities, workshops and shows for families, and demonstrations, exhibitions, talks and tours for adults.

The 2005 Science Festival runs at venues throughout the city from Friday 1 - Sunday 10 April. For full event details and online booking visit http://www.sciencefestival.co.uk. To order a programme or book tickets by phone, call the Ticket Hotline on 0131 557 5588.


Click on the thumbnails to view and download full-size images.

Dr Gladys Pearson, one of the researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University, leading a class in exercise suitable to stregthen the muscles and tendons of older people. (4.41 MB)

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Dr Gladys Pearson of Manchester Metropolitan University leading a class in appropriate exercise for older people. (4.30 MB)

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Professor Marco Narici of Manchester Metropolitan University assisting a volunteer to exercise. (4.22 MB)

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Note that these images are protected by copyright law and may be used with acknowledgement of BBSRC.


Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299

Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer

tel: 01793 414694
fax: 01793 413382