5 Anti-Aging Effects of Exercise

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flickr Photo Credit: ed10vi

Our lives are bound by “time”.  It is indefinite and continuous and helps us relate events to our past, present and future.  It is the one constant that all humans abide by, creating certainty and order. Every human life has a beginning and an end. Although we take it for granted leading up to our young adult years, it is later in life that we become very aware of it … specifically when our bodies begin to show signs of the aging process.

The following are changes in the body that occur as a part of the aging process:

  • By age 65, a person will experience a 20 to 30% decrease in cardiac output (the amount of blood pumped by the heart per minute).
  • Maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) decreases 9% for men and 5% for women per decade.
  • Loss of elasticity in the major blood vessels which contributes to a 10 to 40 mm Hg elevation in systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
  • Maximum heart rate decreases 10 beats per minute per decade.
  • The muscular system undergoes a 40% loss of muscle mass and 30% decrease in strength by age 70.
  • After age 35, there is a 1% loss of bone mass per year, with up to 2 to 3% loss after menopause for women.
  • Between the ages of 45 and 85, a person may lose up to 20% of their brain weight and thirty to fifty thousand neurons a day from the brain and nervous system as they age.
As much as we would hope the mythical “fountain of youth” existed, there are no scientific methods known to stop or reverse the aging process.  Exercise, on the other hand, has been shown to have significant anti-aging benefits that can slow down the degeneration of the body and provide a better overall quality of life for an extended period of time.  Five anti-aging benefits of exercise include:
  1. Looking younger
  2. Improved brain function
  3. Maintaining muscle mass
  4. Stronger bones
  5. Better balance and stability

What is Anti-Aging?

For the scientific community, anti-aging research refers exclusively to the slowing, preventing or reversing of the aging process.  There is currently no proven medical technology that can successfully accomplish this in humans, although there is some debate on the practice of calorie restriction and regular exercise.

In the medical business community, anti-aging medicine refers to early detection, prevention and reversal of age-related diseases.  This is different from combating the aging process itself as it relates to prevention of disease (which can shorten a person’s lifespan) and a wide variety of strategies and therapies are currently available.

Looking Younger

People who engage in regular physical activity have cells that look younger on a molecular level than those of couch potatoes, according to recent research studies designed to better understand how exercise may help slow down the aging process.  What they have found is that the aging process can be traced to telomeres. Telomeres are the tips at the ends of chromosomes that protect DNA.  They’re often compared to the little plastic caps at the end of shoelaces, keeping everything intact.  Every time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. When the telomeres get too short, the cell can no longer divide.  Scientists believe that aging occurs as more and more cells reach the end of their telomeres and die.

In a recent research study conducted at the Saarland University Clinic in Hamburg looked at telomere length of individuals in their 20’s and a group with an average age of 51 years.

  • The young subjects (in their 20’s) included professional runners (mostly national track and field athletes) and a group of sedentary individuals.
  • The older subjects (an average age of 51 years) included serious long time runners and a group of sedentary individuals.
  • The young subjects’ telomeres were about the same length, whether they ran exhaustively or sat around all day.
  • The middle aged runners looked much younger than their sedentary counterparts.
  • The sedentary middle aged participants had telomeres approximately 40% shorter than the middle aged runners.
  • The middle aged runners had telomeres approximately 10% shorter than the professional runners in the younger group (the sedentary middle aged participants had telomeres 40% shorter than their younger sedentary counterparts).

To learn more about this study, click here.

Improved Brain Function

Exercise, the latest neuroscience suggests, does more to bolster thinking than thinking does.  University of Cambridge researchers looked at mice and found that running stimulated new cells to grow in the brain’s hippocampus, or memory center.  A memory test showed the exercising mice performed better than their sedentary counterparts.  Similarly, research in humans indicated that walking for 30 to 50 minutes three or four times a week can increase blood flow to your brain by 15%.  Steady blood flow to the brain delivers much needed oxygen, as well as preventing the build up of proteins in the brain that have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Maintaining Muscle Mass
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Weight bearing and resistance exercise can
maintain muscle mass.

Starting at the age of 25, people lose up to 1% of muscle mass per year, leading to the classic signs of aging in later life (i.e. frailty, lack of coordination, trembling and weakness). Sarcopenia, or the loss of muscle mass associated with aging, is caused by a variety of factors including:

  • Lower levels of hormones
  • Poor nutritional status
  • Changes to cells due to environmental stress (free radical damage)
  • Lack of exercise

Resistance training has been proven through numerous research studies to be a powerful tool in the intervention and prevention of sarcopenia.  It has been reported to positively effect the neuromuscular system, hormone concentrations and the rates of protein synthesis (building) in older subjects.  American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) guidelines for older adults suggests the following:

  • 3 training sessions per week (20 to 45 minutes per session)
  • Primarily multi-joint exercises targeting all major muscle groups (chest, shoulders, arms, back, abdomen and legs)
  • 1 to 3 sets, 10 to 15 repetitions (65 to 75% of 1RM)

For more information on the ACSM guidelines for older adults, click here.

Stronger Bones

Bone mass (or density) gradually decreases as people age, especially women after menopause, due to the loss of stored calcium and other minerals.  As a result, bones become more brittle and may break more easily. Osteoporosis is a common problem that currently has no scientifically proven cure.  The only way to avoid osteoporosis is to build stronger bones earlier in life and maintain bone density as long as possible.

Building strong bones begins in childhood and continues into early adulthood.  In fact, the human body develops the majority of bone  density between the ages of 10 and 18 years old.  The bone one develops in their early years is the bone that must last a lifetime.  In fact, regular physical activity no longer increases bone mass in the elderly, but it can slow bone loss and maintain muscle mass.

The two types of exercise that are most effective for building strong bones are:

  1. Weight-bearing exercise
  2. Strength training exercise

Weight-bearing describes any activity you do on your feet that works your bones and muscles against gravity (i.e. walking, jogging/running, jumping rope, playing team sports, etc.).  When your feet and legs carry your body weight, more stress is placed on the bones, making them work harder.  During strength training activities, resistance is added to movement in order to make muscles work harder and become stronger over time.  Although resistance exercises focus on increasing muscle mass, they also put stress on bones which can have a positive effect on bone density.

In recent studies, high impact loading using the bioDensity device has been shown to increase bone density beyond the years of prime bone density development.  Self-loading the body with multiples of body weight (4 multi-joint movements; a total of 20 seconds of work; once per week) has shown favorable results.  For more information, click here.

Better Balance and Stability

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 33% of people over the age of 65 fall each year and those who fall are 2 to 3 times more likely to fall again.  In a recent publication released by the CDC, in an effort to promote fall prevention in older population, several exercise interventions were shown to significantly decrease the incidence of falls:

  • Stay Safe, Stay Active – 40% decrease
  • The Otago Exercise Program – 35% decrease
  • Tai Chi: Moving for Better Balance – 55% decrease
  • Veterans Affairs Group Exercise Program – 66% decrease

For more information on “Preventing Falls: What Works” (a CDC publication), click here.

Next Steps in Preventing the Effects of Aging

Including regular physical activity into your busy life can help to slow down the aging process.  This includes cardiovascular exercise, resistance exercise, functional exercise and flexibility training.  For more information on the ACSM exercise guidelines, click here.

It’s never too late to start … but the sooner you start the better chance you have to maintain a more youthful vitality, vigor and appearance!