According to a new study, if you want to preserve your muscles' mass and function through midlife and into your later years, you may want to consider reducing the amount of calories you consume. Researchers at Chang Gung University in Taiwan have found that although calorie restriction reduces muscle mass in younger rats, it does the opposite in older ones, keeping their muscles from shrinking as they age.

Calorie restriction has shown different results in animals and humans of different ages, so the researchers wanted to see whether it would have a different effect on young and older mice. They fed groups of middle-aged and young rats a hypo-caloric diet, comparing them with a control group that was fed a normal amount. The experimental group was slowly eased into their restricted diet, receiving 10 percent fewer calories in the first week, 25 percent fewer in the second and then 40 percent fewer for the rest of the study period. 

Comparing results from the two groups after 14 weeks, the scientists found that the younger rats experienced a reduction in muscle mass due to their lower caloric intake. However, the older rats' muscle mass remained the same, and they scored as well as the younger rats on measures of muscle metabolism. 

"To date, caloric restriction (CR) is the only non-pharmaceutical and non-genetic strategy that increases the lifespan of animals and provides health benefits. Regarding skeletal muscle, an organ that is critical for movement and fuel metabolism, studies have reported that CR attenuates age-related muscle loss," the researchers wrote in their report.

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