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Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Physical fitness and biological aging

Aging is not really very well understood.  We know that both mental and physical decline are a symptom (if symptom is the right word?) of aging.  There are probably a host of other factors like declining organ function and suboptimal hormone profiles, but to most people physical and mental decline are the major issues that occur as we age.

The dream of agelessness

Although you can never stop the hands of time, it does appear that you can slow the speed at which you actually age biologically.  Everyone is different, we all appear to age at different rates from a biological outlook[i].  Some people look fabulous at 50, while other look frazzled by 30. You cannot change your inherent genetics, but you can ‘tweak’ the controls a little by using a technique that virtually anyone can do. Surprisingly, it is through vigorous physical activity that you lessen the effects of aging.  It has been shown that physical activity has a positive effect on both physical[ii] and mental[iii] biological age of a person.  If you apply the stimulus of exercise it will positively affect the markers of biological aging on both the body and the mind. Without exercise the body goes through an uncontrolled spiral of decay[iv].

Cell protection.

So, if exercise positively affect aging how does it affect health on a cellular level?
On a cellular level some of the health benefits seems to be that exercise somehow stops (or possibly even reverses) telomere shrinkage[v]. Telomeres sit at the ends of genes.  Usually a little bit of telomere is lost everytime a cell divides.  Once it is gone cells are open to damage and have increased chances of developing cancer and other issues.  Exercise protects these telomeres from shrinkage. Without this shrinkage cells stay healthy and vibrant for longer.

What works?

So if we know exercise helps you stay biologically younger both from a mental/physical aspect and on a cellular level, then the next question is what exercise should I do?

The answer is probably what you would expect.  Do a little cardiovascular exercise and a little resistance training[vi].  Balancing the positive effects of both seems to be the key, but you should be doing both. Add in some exercise that makes you breathe a little bit harder, but also include something that will make you stronger.  I suggest lifting weights several times a week and doing your favourite form of cardio a few times a week.  Also try to walk on a daily basis, climb stairs instead of using the lift and other things that will increase daily activity. If you can do things and try to eat a healthy diet you will be as biologically young as you can be.
Special thanks to Hugletts Wood Farm Animal Sanctuary for letting us help out there and take a few pictures while we were there (which we are using on this article). Support them if you can.

[i] Belsky DW, et al. Quantification of biological aging in young adults. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Jul 28;112(30):E4104-10.

[ii] Deslandes A, The biological clock keeps ticking, but exercise may turn it back. Arq Neuropsiquiatr. 2013 Feb;71(2):113-8.

[iii] Barber SE, et al. Is There a Role for Physical Activity in Preventing Cognitive Decline in People With Mild Cognitive Impairment? Age Ageing. 2012;41(1):5-8.
[iv] Shepard RJ. Aging and exercise. In: Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine and Science. Internet Society for Sport Science.

[v] Loprinzi PD, et al. Movement-Based Behaviors and Leukocyte Telomere Length among US Adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2015 Nov;47(11):2347-52.

[vi] Kravitz L. Aerobics vs. Resistance Training. Is This the Battle of the Fitness Titans?

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