A lifetime of regular exercise slows down aging, study finds

March 8, 2018, University of Birmingham
Researchers at the University of Birmingham and King's College London have found that staying active keeps the body young and healthy. Credit: University of Birmingham

Researchers at the University of Birmingham and King's College London have found that staying active keeps the body young and healthy.

The researchers set out to assess the health of older adults who had exercised most of their adult lives to see if this could slow down ageing.

The study recruited 125 amateur cyclists aged 55 to 79, 84 of which were male and 41 were female. The men had to be able to cycle 100 km in under 6.5 hours, while the women had to be able to cycle 60 km in 5.5 hours. Smokers, heavy drinkers and those with or other health conditions were excluded from the study.

The participants underwent a series of tests in the laboratory and were compared to a group of adults who do not partake in . This group consisted of 75 healthy people aged 57 to 80 and 55 healthy young adults aged 20 to 36.

The study showed that loss of muscle mass and strength did not occur in those who exercise regularly. The cyclists also did not increase their body fat or cholesterol levels with age and the men's testosterone levels also remained high, suggesting that they may have avoided most of the male menopause.

More surprisingly, the study also revealed that the benefits of exercise extend beyond muscle as the cyclists also had an immune system that did not seem to have aged either.

An organ called the thymus, which makes immune cells called T cells, starts to shrink from the age of 20 and makes less T cells. In this study, however, the cyclists' thymuses were making as many T cells as those of a young person.

The findings come as figures show that less than half of over 65s do enough exercise to stay healthy and more than half of those aged over 65 suffer from at least two diseases.* Professor Janet Lord, Director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham, said: "Hippocrates in 400 BC said that exercise is man's best medicine, but his message has been lost over time and we are an increasingly sedentary society.

"However, importantly, our findings debunk the assumption that ageing automatically makes us more frail.

"Our research means we now have strong evidence that encouraging people to commit to throughout their lives is a viable solution to the problem that we are living longer but not healthier."

Dr Niharika Arora Duggal, also of the University of Birmingham, said: "We hope these findings prevent the danger that, as a society, we accept that old age and disease are normal bedfellows and that the third age of man is something to be endured and not enjoyed."

Professor Stephen Harridge, Director of the Centre of Human & Aerospace Physiological Sciences at King's College London, said: "The findings emphasise the fact that the cyclists do not exercise because they are healthy, but that they are healthy because they have been exercising for such a large proportion of their lives.

"Their bodies have been allowed to age optimally, free from the problems usually caused by inactivity. Remove the activity and their health would likely deteriorate."

Norman Lazarus, Emeritus Professor at King's College London and also a master and Dr Ross Pollock, who undertook the muscle study, both agreed that: "Most of us who exercise have nowhere near the physiological capacities of elite athletes.

"We exercise mainly to enjoy ourselves. Nearly everybody can partake in an exercise that is in keeping with their own physiological capabilities.

"Find an that you enjoy in whatever environment that suits you and make a habit of . You will reap the rewards in later life by enjoying an independent and productive old age."

The research findings are detailed in two papers published today in Aging Cell and are the result of an ongoing joint study by the two universities, funded by the BUPA foundation.

The researchers hope to continue to assess the cyclists to see if they continue to cycle and stay young.

Explore further: Exercise allows you to age optimally

More information: 1. Pollock et al (2018). 'Properties of the vastus lateralis muscle in relation to age and physiological function in master cyclists aged 55 - 79 years'. Aging Cell (2018).

2. Duggal et al (2018). 'Major features of Immunesenescence, including Thymic atrophy, are ameliorated by high levels of physical activity in adulthood.' Aging Cell (2018).

*Kings Fund Report on Multimorbidity 2014 - www.kingsfund.org.uk/projects/ … ions-multi-morbidity

Related Stories

Exercise allows you to age optimally

January 5, 2015
Staying active allows you to age optimally, according to a study by King's College London and the University of Birmingham. The study of amateur older cyclists found that many had levels of physiological function that would ...

Open-ended laboratory tests for cyclists could help athletes train better

September 25, 2017
Scientists at the University's School of Sport and Exercise Sciences (SSES) have discovered that cyclists can perform better when they do not have to pace their efforts.

Aged garlic extract may help obese adults combat inflammation, study suggests

January 18, 2018
Aged garlic extract may help obese people ward off painful inflammation and lower cholesterol levels, a new University of Florida study shows.

The magic pill is exercise

September 11, 2017
As people age, walking and balance become more of a challenge, but also more of a necessity. Older adults who aren't physically active increase their risk of illness, hospitalization and disability. Just how much exercise ...

Study indicates exercise sharpens the young adult brain

January 20, 2015
Regular physical activity improves brain function even in young adults considered in their prime and at the height of cognitive ability, according to a new University of Otago study.

Your choice in exercise can lead to healthier eating

September 27, 2017
Researchers at The University of Western Australia have found that people who have no choice in the exercise they do are more likely to eat unhealthy food afterwards.

Recommended for you

Diagnosing and treating disorders of early sex development

June 19, 2018
Diagnosing, advising on and treating disorders of early sex development represent a huge medical challenge, both for those affected and for treating physicians. In contrast to the earlier view, DSD (Difference of Sex Development) ...

Everything big data claims to know about you could be wrong

June 19, 2018
When it comes to understanding what makes people tick—and get sick—medical science has long assumed that the bigger the sample of human subjects, the better. But new research led by UC Berkeley suggests this big-data ...

BPA can induce multigenerational effects on ability to communicate

June 18, 2018
Past studies have shown that biparental care of offspring can be affected negatively when females and males are exposed to bisphenol A (BPA); however, previous studies have not characterized how long-term effects of BPA exposure ...

New compound shown to be as effective as FDA-approved drugs against life-threatening infections

June 15, 2018
Purdue University researchers have identified  a new compound that in preliminary testing has shown itself to be as effective as antibiotics approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat life-threatening infections ...

Foods combining fats and carbohydrates more rewarding than foods with just fats or carbs

June 14, 2018
Researchers show that the reward center of the brain values foods high in both fat and carbohydrates—i.e., many processed foods—more than foods containing only fat or only carbs. A study of 206 adults, to appear June ...

3-D imaging and computer modeling capture breast duct development

June 14, 2018
Working with hundreds of time-lapse videos of mouse tissue, a team of biologists joined up with civil engineers to create what is believed to be the first 3-D computer model to show precisely how the tiny tubes that funnel ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.