Feeling Old? Work It Out: Battling Age with Exercise

Battling Age with Exercise photo

Of all the world’s trends, anti-aging methods are among the biggest and the longest-standing. We all know how to care for our skin, hair, nails, and teeth in ways that, hopefully, keep aging at least somewhat at bay. And let’s not forget all of our anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals, smoothies, herbs, and teas we consume in our search for that fountain of youth.

But what about addressing aging at the cellular level? And can this be done through exercise? There have been many studies on the relationship between physical activity and aging. Let’s look at two.

European Research

A recent study, authored by Ulrich Laufs, MD, of the Leipzig University in Germany, showed cardio exercises slowed signs of aging. This included running, swimming, cycling as well as HIIT (high-intensity interval training). When the cellular level anti-aging effects of these cardio moves were compared to lifting weights, the study showed comparable results.

At the end of the study participants of both endurance training and HIIT experienced anti-aging effects of their workouts. Interestingly, participants who did only resistance training did not exhibit anti-aging effects of their workouts. To measure cellular-level changes, researchers examined white blood cells from blood taken of all participants before the study began. To summarize the results, cells the from runners and the participants in HIIT showed two significant changes:

  1. Their telomeres lengthened.
  2. Their telomerase levels increased.

Telomeres are the caps at the ends of chromosomes. These caps normally shrink as we age. This shrinkage causes cell death so the cells stop dividing. Telomerase is an enzyme involved in maintaining those caps (telomeres). These two factors play big role in cellular aging and regenerative capacity, which aid in healthy aging.

This study concluded that endurance and HIIT workouts delay telomere shrinkage by affecting nitric oxide levels in the blood. Nitric oxide increases blood flow, consequently lowering blood pressure. It’s probable this increased nitric oxide affects cell changes.

What this study did not conclude was that one workout is necessarily better for physical fitness than the other. Changes in telomere length were not associated with changes in cardiorespiratory fitness.

Mayo Clinic Research

A similar study at the Mayo Clinic, published in the Cell Metabolism journal, showed HIIT not only boosts metabolism, builds up muscles and burns fat but can also reverse the signs of aging at the cellular level.

In this study, 72 sedentary adults were divided into two age groups: 18-30 and 65-80. They were then assigned to one of three 12-week workout programs:

  1. High-Intensity Interval Cycling (the most rigorous program)
  2. Strength Training (with weights – exercising upper and lower body two times/week)
  3. Combined workout (strength-training and cycling – five days/week but without intervals and for less time)

The changes being measured were leg strength, lean muscle mass, insulin sensitivity and oxygen capacity. The findings at the end of the 12 week study were:

  • All three groups gained lean muscle and improved oxygen capacity.
  • HIIT participants showed the biggest benefit of their workouts at the cellular level.
  • The younger participants experienced a 49% boost in cellular (mitochondrial) oxygen capacity.
  • The older participants experienced even more substantial increase in cellular (mitochondrial) oxygen intake at 69%.

Like telomeres, mitochondria, which play a big role in metabolism and cardio fitness, deteriorate as we age. If these organelles are kept healthy, some signs of cellular aging may decline.

Note: It’s not being recommended that you give up strength training. The European Society of Cardiology’s common exercise recommendations states that resistance exercise should be included with endurance training, not a substitute for them. And the updated exercise recommendations for America suggests getting 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity per week. This is with at least two muscle-strengthening activities per week.

The Downside

A body that’s healthy and strong, all the way down to the celllar level….what’s not to like? According to Panteleimon Ekkekakis, professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, the workout itself. “If you can take an hour of exercise and squeeze it into one minute, there’s a price to pay. The price is 100% intensity. It’s undeniable that the experience will be unpleasant.”

Since encouragement and motivation are crucial parts to any workout program, it’s recommended that you start slowly. Start with a 15-minute workout, beginning vigorously and slowly decreasing to a lower intensity. Build your intensity gradually. This way you’re more likely to commit to it, experiencing increasing pleasure during and after your workout. After all, you cannot reap the benefits of an anti-aging workout, or of any workout, if you don’t stick with it!

Image Credit: Anti-Aging Fitness

Post by Andrea Rogers