Seniors who have never exercised regularly have the same ability to build muscle mass as highly trained athletes in the same age group, according to a new study from the University of Birmingham.

The researchers compared muscle biopsies of master athletes in their 70s and 80s to that of inactive seniors in the same age group after a bout of resistance training. The biopsies – taken before and after training – revealed that both groups had an equal capacity to build muscle in response to exercise.

The results were unexpected, and show that even starting late in life can help delay age-related frailty and muscle weakness, reported lead researcher Leigh Breen, Ph.D. “[I]t doesn’t matter if you haven’t been a regular exerciser throughout your life, you can still derive benefit from exercise whenever you start.”

Resistance training is any exercise that causes muscles to contract against external resistance. Breen recommends that seniors incorporate it into everyday life. “Activities such as gardening, walking up and down stairs or lifting up a shopping bag can all help if undertaken as part of a regular exercise regime,” he said.

The study was published in Frontiers in Physiology.