Is Exercise the Fountain of Youth?

June 9, 2011

By Dr. Carolyn Anderson

Throughout history, people have searched for the fountain of youth. Perhaps the reason it’s never been found is that it’s been hiding in plain sight all along. New research is suggesting that exercise could very well be the closest thing we can get to a fountain of youth.

Older woman biking Nothing does more to improve your health and slow down the aging process than regular exercising. The latest anti-aging studies support just how important it is that we keep moving. We are meant to move, our bodies are wired to work more effectively when we move. Unfortunately our society is often sedentary.

As a doctor who works with older patients, I see the positive effects of exercise all the time. One patient of mine had arthritis and was barely able to move. She was on high doses of prednisone and plaquenil, and while the drugs reduced the pain and swelling they came with other negative side effects. By gradually starting to bike, she was able to slowly regain full mobility. She is now completely off one drug and regularly bikes 24 km bikeathons. Her CRP (a measure of inflammation) levels have dropped considerably.

Exercise not only makes us feel better and more energetic, it actually alters the body at a cellular level. Some recent research out of the University of Colorado reveals how exercise could increase the life span of our cells. This study analyzed telomere length in white blood cells (WBCs). Telomeres are stretches of DNA located at the end of chromosomes that protect our genetic data. You can think of them like plastic tips on a shoelace because they prevent chromosome ends from fraying and sticking together. It seems the longer the telomeres the longer the life of the cell. This study compared the telomere length of the WBCs in a group age 55-72 years who did regular cardiovascular exercise, to those of an age matched control that did not exercise and also compared the cells to a group of people 18-32 who exercised regularly.

Older Woman Working Out The study found that the older group (55-72 years) that was active had longer telomeres than their inactive people aged 55-72 and comparable telomere lengths to the younger active individuals. It seems that aerobic exercise may have the anti-aging effects of decreasing the rate of telomere shortening or increasing the rate of telomere repair.

Geneticist, Richard Cawthon, and colleagues at the University of Utah found shorter telomeres are associated with shorter lives. Among people older than 60, those with shorter telomeres were three times more likely to die from heart disease and eight times more likely to die from infectious disease.

Another research study found that men in their 50s, who were of average weight and had a high grip strength were more likely to be “exceptional survivors” who are people who reach 85 years of age without developing a major disease.

couple exercising Exercise can also help prevent the onset and progression of age related diseases by decreasing the levels of inflammation in the body. For many years, we have been studying the effects of inflammation on the body and it is a fact that high levels of inflammation increase the risk of heart disease, cancer and Alzheimers. Inflammation can be measured in the body by measuring the level of C-reactive protein (CRP). Exercise done on a regular basis has been shown to decrease the CRP levels in the body and decrease the progression and the effect of age related diseases.

Exercise has a host of other benefits including lowering your stress levels, improving your mood, memory, skin, sleep and more.

Science is showing us that if we get moving and keep moving that our biological age can be much lower than our chronological age. We can literally trick our cells into thinking we are younger. It’s never too late to start so step away from the computer and start moving.

About the Author: Dr. Carolyn Anderson is an eye surgeon who founded Impowerage to raise money for macular degeneration research. She practices cataract surgery in Langley, BC and is also a professional speaker. Her mission in life is to empower older adults with the information they need to continue living healthy active lifestyles.

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