UAB MASTERS Trial uses exercise, diabetes medicine to increase strength in seniors

UAB MASTERS Trial uses exercise, diabetes medicine to increase strength in seniors
Heyward Menasco exercises as part of a UAB Center for Exercise Medicine clinical trial, building strength and muscle mass. (Bob Shephard)

Some lucky senior citizens have the chance to get stronger – and healthier – under medical supervision at UAB.

Researchers at UAB and the University of Kentucky are currently in the third year of a five-year study on the effects of aging on muscle loss. They seek to determine whether metformin helps seniors build muscle and prevent frailty.

“We know that everyone ages differently,” said Marcas Bamman, director, UAB Center for Exercise Medicine. “The average older population has more inflammation in their muscle tissue, but we know exercising removes that inflammation.”

Adults 65 and older can take part in UAB‘s medically supervised exercise program – the MASTERS Trial – funded by the National Institute on Aging – National Institute of Health. Half of the individuals take metformin, a first-line medicine used in the treatment of high blood sugar and type 2 diabetes. The other participants receive a sugar pill, or placebo. Through this double-blind study, neither researchers nor participants know whether they receive metformin; only the research pharmacy is aware which participants get the drug.

The intent is to determine how metformin, taken in conjunction with the exercise program, helps seniors to restore the muscle mass they had in their younger years, which in turn increases their strength and metabolism. Bamman, who holds a Ph.D. in physiology from the University of Florida’s College of Medicine, said that older adults respond well to strength training.

“There’s an inflammatory burden in muscle tissue as we get older,” Bamman said.

“Older individuals who exercise are truly a success story, but we want to make it even better,” he said. “If you take the inflammatory burden away from muscle, it will respond better to exercise. We’ve found that, with strength training alone, for a group of folks that are 70 years old, you can erase 40 years in just four months, if they work hard enough.”

With metformin in the mix, Bamman noted, “If you take muscle samples from 100 people who have high inflammation in their muscle tissue, you can determine whether their muscles need a boost.”

UAB Center for Exercise Medicine part of study using diabetes drug to build muscles in elderly from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Each participant receives a regimen of exercise training under the supervision of a personal trainer, following a three-day, “high-low-high” exercise regimen during a 14-week training period. Mondays and Fridays feature high-intensity workouts – 40 to 45 minutes of whole-body exercise for each muscle group – while Wednesday sessions incorporate light exercise.

Bamman is seeking new recruits – male and female – for the program.

“We’re looking for people who aren’t active, but who are in general good health and aren’t already taking metformin,” he said. “We first make sure they’re healthy enough to exercise.”

Participants may be insulin-resistant but not diabetic. A physical exam is required before sign-up.

“If we discover that folks are insulin-resistant, the exercise alone will generally correct the condition,” Bamman said.

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