A combination of fish oil and visits to the gym can help ageing muscles stay strong, research suggests.
Women pensioners following the advice in a pilot trial doubled the rate at which exercise improved their muscles.
The results were so encouraging that a bigger study involving both men and women is now under way.
Experts believe the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil counteract the natural effects of ageing that weaken the body later in life.
Age-related loss of muscle mass, known as sarcopenia, starts in middle age. It seriously affects around 20% of the population aged 50 to 70 and half of everyone aged 80.
The condition saps strength leading to problems performing every day tasks, such as shopping, dressing and rising from a chair.
Although exercise helps, ageing muscles do not respond to training as well as young ones.
“We’re trying to make older muscle adapt like younger muscle, and that’s where we think fish oil can come in,” said lead scientist Dr Stuart Gray from the University of Aberdeen’s Musculoskeletal Research Programme.
He launched the new research at the British Science Festival, taking place at the university.
Dr Gray said it was too early to make any recommendations about taking fish oil to maintain muscles, but added: “We hope that providing new mechanistic insights into the benefits of fish oil on muscles could lead to the development of new pharmacological treatments to prevent against the loss of muscle with age.”