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Exercising one arm builds muscle in both, study finds

In encouraging news for people who have lost the use of a limb through injury or stroke, a recent Australian study has found training one arm with certain exercises can have a similar effect on the other.

The Edith Cowan University (ECU) study could be the key to addressing muscle loss in an arm post injury, by making use of exercises in the other.

ECU Professor Ken Nosaka said finding were part of an international study, looking at rehabilitation for injury and stroke patients.

“I think this could change the way we approach rehabilitation for people who have temporarily lost the use of one arm or one leg,” he said.

“By starting rehab and exercise in the uninjured limb right away, we can prevent muscle damage induced by exercise in the other limb and also build strength without moving it at all.”

There were 30 participants in the study, who had one arm immobilised for eight hours per day for a period of four weeks.

Subjects performed no exercise, a combination of eccentric and concentric exercise, and some just performing eccentric.

Eccentric exercises, such as bicep curls, sitting on a chair slowly, or walking downstairs, lengthen the contracting muscle and have been proven to build muscle more effectively.

Professor Nosaka said this research had found that to be true.

“Participants who did eccentric exercise had the biggest increase in strength in both arms, so it has a very powerful cross-transfer effect,” he said.
“This group also had just 2% muscle wastage in their immobilised arm, compared with those who did no exercise who had a 28% loss of muscle.
“This means that for those people who do no exercise, they have to regain all that muscle and strength again.”

Plans to expand the research are underway, as Professor Nosaka said he hoped to move onto other arm muscles and movements.

“In the future, we hope to look at how eccentric exercise can help improve motor function, movement and fine muscle control, which is particularly important for stroke and rehabilitation patients,” he said.

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