We all get older, but what if there was something we could do to age more slowly?
According to a 2017 study published in Preventive Medicine and research conducted at McMaster University in Ontario; just about any type and amount of physical exercise could slow the aging process where it counts: Deep within the cells of our bodies. Take a look at how increasing age can affect your health and what exercise can do to slow that process down.
How aging affects you
Time is the great equalizer because we are all subject to the gradual process of aging. For those of us who manage to avoid serious disease, severe accidents, or major medical events like stroke or heart attack – age will change us slowly, but inexorably. Let’s take a look at how the steady passage of time can degrade your health and abilities.
Significant aging by your 30’s
By the time you leave your 20s, there are significant signs of aging that will affect your metabolism, heart, and circulatory system.
- After age 30, the average males maximum heart rate is reduced by about one beat per minute every year.
- The peak capacity of the heart to pump blood will decline by five to ten percent every decade after your 30th birthday. That means your heart will decline from being able to pump approximately 2.5 quarts of blood per minute in your 20’s to around one quart in your 80s.
- Your third decade of life is when blood vessels begin to stiffen, and blood pressure can begin to creep up. Worse, the blood can become increasingly thicker, making it harder to pump. Your red blood cells will also decline in number, making it harder to move oxygen to where it’s needed.
- We begin to lose muscle mass, which reduces our strength levels and contributes to a lower resting metabolic rate, which leads to the next effect of aging.
- Most of us will begin to put on excess body fat by middle-age; an average of three to four pounds per year after 30. This weight gain is typically accompanied by a rise in blood sugar levels that may eventually lead to diabetes.
Muscle loss, osteoporosis, hormone changes, and insomnia
As we age, we’ll continue to lose more muscle mass. Ultimately, our bodies can lose up to half the muscle we had in our 20s. We don’t just get weaker from muscle loss, though; our muscles and ligaments become less flexible which can make restrict movement and make us more susceptible to injury.
We all, man or woman, will experience bone loss, called osteoporosis. As a result, the risk of fractures will increase with age. Both sexes will experience a drop in sex hormones, testosterone for men and estrogen for women. While women suffer a precipitous drop in estrogen levels after age 50 due to menopause, men’s testosterone levels tend to decline by approximately one percent every year after age 40. This is why sexual vigor and desire gradually fall into late middle age and beyond.
Our nervous system also deteriorates with age. Your reflexes will slow down, and it will become harder to recall information (those embarrassing ‘senior moments’) or learn new things.
With increasing age, the quantity and quality of sleep that we get begin to decline. We have more trouble falling asleep and wake up more often through the night. Most men will also start to urinate more frequently during the night due to prostate issues – further reducing the quality of sleep.
The effects of exercise on aging
According to recent research conducted at McMaster University in Ontario that involved a breed of mice that experienced early aging; a regular exercise routine may slow or even undo the symptoms of premature aging in the test animals.
When the test mice remained sedentary, they quickly showed signs of aging like cognitive decline (dementia), becoming weaker, frailer, wizened, gray or losing hair. But, when these animals were provided access to a running wheel – they kept their youth, hair, strength, memory, and sexual health significantly longer than the sedentary mice.
Your telomeres tell your age
The 2017 study published in Preventive Medicine also discovered that exercise could slow our biological aging by about ten years. Researchers collected data from almost 6,000 people who had participated in a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 and 2002. These participants had been asked both demographic and lifestyle questions – including exercise frequency.
Most importantly they also looked at telomere lengths. Telomeres are the protective structures on the ends of our chromosomes that help maintain stability, a lot like how the plastic bit at the end of a shoelace keeps it from coming undone. Every time our cells divide, these telomeres get a bit shorter. Once they get too short to protect a chromosome, the cell gets old and dies, possibly causing age-related cancer, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.
Exercise preserves telomeres to slow aging
In the 2017 study, exercise scientists at Brigham Young University in Utah investigated the effect of physical activity on telomere length. The result was that they found substantial evidence of differences between people who got a high level of regular, intense exercise and people who didn’t. Researchers found that adults that maintained high levels of physical exercise experienced an aging advantage of almost ten years when compared to sedentary individuals. Even moderate levels of physical activity had a benefit; active people’s telomeres were about seven years younger than their chronological age.
For this study, a high level of physical activity was defined as going for a 30 to 40 minute run at least five days per week.
The study authors conclude that to have a real impact on the rate of biological aging, getting just a little exercise won’t have any real effect. You’re going to need to exercise often and at a high level. They also say that they now know that one reason that regular physical activity helps to prolong life and reduce mortality from all causes may be because it keeps our telomeres healthy to keep our cells functioning well longer.