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We have all heard that exercise is good for our health. However, it can not only keep you healthy, it can also slow down some aspects of aging. Some researchers even think that it might be possible to use this knowledge to develop new therapies against aging. While waiting for that to happen, we need to exercise in order to slow down the effects of aging.

How important is it to keep fit?

So, how beneficial is exercising? Well, one of the best studies conducted on this subject showed that women will live 5.6 years longer and men 6.2 years longer if they exercise between 1 and 2.5 hours per week[1]. This makes exercise a better lifestyle choice than any other, at least as long as you’re not counting avoiding downright dangerous behavior, such as smoking.

The main benefits of physical activity may come from better health for the heart. Exercise lessens the risk for many types of heart disease[2]. It is even more beneficial for people who already suffered age-related conditions, including stroke and coronary heart disease, and it is more effective than any known drug in preventing repeated episodes[3].

The key improvements also include increased muscle strength, stronger bones, better weight control, and improved cognitive function. This means less risk of age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, as well as lethal falls, which are a major risk for the elderly.

The conclusion is that exercise helps with a lot of different aspects of your health in several ways, and we can summarize its effects as improving quality of life and increasing healthspan.

How much exercise do you need?

More exercise does not always improve outcomes. Professional athletes exercise more than the rest of us, and they generally live longer than the average person[4]. However, correlation isn’t causation, and robust individuals are perhaps more likely to become athletes, instead of the other way around. There could even be negative effects from too much exercise, although that is far from certain.

Even moderate exercise leads to better health. Half an hour a day seems to be enough to see positive effects, and it is also a common recommendation for the minimum amount of exercise you should get. The biggest difference can be seen between people who hardly move around at all and people who get at least a little exercise a few times a week. Taking the stairs and walking short distances is clearly better than nothing. In fact, some studies show that even light activity, such as housework, can have an effect on mortality risk.

It should also be noted that there are different types of exercise and that these could have different benefits. Jogging increases your aerobic ability, which should, among other things, lead to better heart health. Lifting weights is an anaerobic exercise that improves strength and should bring other benefits, such as stronger bones. A lot of research about this has been done already, but so far, we don’t definitively know the optimal amount and type of training for each particular type of person.

Drugs to mimic exercise

Some of the positive effects have to do with the anti-inflammatory processes that occur when exercising[5]. Other mechanisms appear to be involved, although more research on these mechanisms is needed.

Since the advantages of exercise are clear, the idea has occurred to some researchers that it may be possible to mimic the effects of exercise without doing the hard work and getting sweaty. Research is now being conducted using drugs that target the same mechanisms to try to get the same benefits of exercise.

This typically involves adjusting a part of the human metabolism, which is not an easy matter. However, there have been at least some tentative breakthroughs already, and last year, a team found a drug that boosted the endurance of mice by roughly 70 percent[6]. Where this might lead in the future is not clear, but some positive effects may come from this research.

Will exercise lead to longevity?

Even though exercise is beneficial for your health, there is no guarantee it will keep you alive until you reach 100, although staying fit will almost certainly improve your chances. This is why if we want to remain in good health and live longer, we need to develop rejuvenation biotechnology and therapies that address the aging processes directly. That said, if you want to increase your chances of living long enough to see these therapies arrive, then exercise is the best option you have right now.

Literature

[1] Schnohr, P., Lange, P., Scharling, H., & Jensen, J. S. (2006). Long-term physical activity in leisure time and mortality from coronary heart disease, stroke, respiratory diseases, and cancer. The Copenhagen City Heart Study. European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitation, 13(2), 173-179.

[2] Jakovljevic, D. G. (2017). Physical activity and cardiovascular aging: Physiological and molecular insights. Experimental Gerontology.

[3] Naci, H., & Ioannidis, J. P. (2013). Comparative effectiveness of exercise and drug interventions on mortality outcomes: metaepidemiological study. Bmj, 347, f5577.

[4] Lemez, S., & Baker, J. (2015). Do elite athletes live longer? a systematic review of mortality and longevity in elite athletes. Sports medicine-open, 1(1), 16.

[5] Fan, W., Waizenegger, W., Lin, C. S., Sorrentino, V., He, M. X., Wall, C. E., … & Auwerx, J. (2017). PPARδ Promotes Running Endurance by Preserving Glucose. Cell Metabolism, 25(5), 1186-1193.

[6] Dimitrov, S., Hulteng, E., & Hong, S. (2017). Inflammation and exercise: Inhibition of monocytic intracellular TNF production by acute exercise via β 2-adrenergic activation. Brain, behavior, and immunity, 61, 60-68.

CategoryBlog, Research
About the author
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Michael Falk

Michael Falk is a communication specialist with 15 years of experience writing about healthcare and technology. He has been an advocate of longevity research since 2013, when he started his longevity blog Unggamma (www.unggammal.se).
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