COLUMBUS, Ohio – Researchers have more physical evidence to show why it's important for older people to exercise, according to recent research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Researchers studied aging racehorses and found that regular aerobic workouts decreased the prevalence of muscle damage that can be caused by exertion. Mammalian skeletal muscle tissue is the same regardless of the species, said Steven Devor, the study's lead author and an assistant professor of exercise science education at Ohio State University.

Devor and his colleagues studied the effects of aerobic exercise – in this case, galloping on a treadmill – on small sections of skeletal muscle tissue taken from the limbs of retired racehorses. The findings support a “use-it-or-lose-it” philosophy: After 10 weeks of regular workouts, the horses' muscles showed fewer signs of damage caused by exertion, even after the horses worked out at their maximum capacity.

The results apply to humans and are especially important for older adults, Devor said. "This suggests that, in older adults, regular exercise may help prevent injuries associated with age-related impairments such as reduced muscle strength, impaired mobility and a tendency to fall."

As fitness and health professionals know, minor muscle damage is normal after a new or a particularly difficult workout and will often cause delayed onset muscle soreness. "The way to get rid of this kind of pain is to stay physically active," Devor said. "It's ironic, but muscles are most often injured during exercise. But muscles get stronger by repairing this damage."