Muscle Strength: Build it Better with Fish Oil and Strength Training

[frame src="/wp-content/uploads/images/FOL4.12_Photo10.png" width="261" height="221" align="left"]With aging and reduced physical activity, skeletal muscles lose some of their strength, functional capacity and mass. With greater muscle weakness, an individual may be less able to get around and care for him/herself and usually face a greater risk of bone fracture and mortality. Many of these changes can be substantially slowed and muscle performance improved with appropriate physical activity and exercise, strength training and healthy nutrition. There are now many studies in older adults showing the health benefits of physical activities from alpine skiing to strength or resistance training and daily walking. Improvements associated with regular exercise include retention of muscle mass, greater strength and coordination, and better quality of life. [frame src="/wp-content/uploads/images/FOL4.12_Callout20.png" alt="" width="172" height="148" align="right"]Good nutrition contributes to better health in older adults by improving bone density and strength, increasing heart and circulatory fitness and reducing the risk of some chronic diseases. Although we have a good understanding of how dietary fatty acids contribute to heart health, there is much less information about how fatty acids might affect skeletal muscle mass and function. Might they enhance the benefits of exercise on muscle metabolism, mass or strength? An interesting study by Brazilian researchers addressed this question in a study of healthy, white women 64 years of age who were sedentary. The investigators designed a 3-month targeted exercise program aimed at strengthening the lower limbs. One group of participants consumed fish oil providing 700 mg daily of EPA and DHA, the two main long-chain omega-3s in seafood; another group consumed no supplement; and the third group consumed fish oil for 2 months before as well as during the exercise program. Supervised resistance exercises were begun at a low level of intensity and gradually increased weekly until the last week of training. [frame src="/wp-content/uploads/images/FOL4.12_Photo11.png" alt="" width="273" height="258" align="left"]Muscle performance was assessed before supplementation and training and at the end of the 3-month exercise period. In addition, the participants performed four exercises to assess their overall muscle function before and after training. These included getting up from a chair without using the arms, foot up-and-go, sit and reach, and a 6-minute walk test. At the end of the resistance training, muscle function improved in all groups, but the improvements were significantly greater in those who consumed the fish oil. Consuming fish oil prior to strength training did not confer any advantage. Muscle activation and the time lag for a mechanical response improved in the groups consuming fish oil, but were unchanged in the unsupplemented group. Strength training improved all measures of functional capacity in all groups, but fish oil was associated with an even better performance only in the chair-raising test. [frame src="/wp-content/uploads/images/FOL4.12_Callout21.png" alt="" width="177" height="145" align="right" caption="Whatever"] These findings confirm other reports of improved neuromuscular performance with moderate, graduated strength training and its effects on muscle functionality in older women. However, this is the first report suggesting that omega-3s enhance the effects of strength training in older adults. These observations need to be confirmed by others, but they build on the known benefits of physical exercise and strength training and suggest an additional advantage from increased omega-3 consumption. If confirmed by others, these observations could have healthful implications for the mobility and quality of life in older adults whose lives may be sedentary.