An Easy Way to Lower Your “Biological Age”
While creams and lotions can reduce visible signs of aging, they have no effect on biological aging at the cellular level. However, in a study published in the journal Preventive Medicine, researchers found that we aren’t completely helpless when it comes to slowing the speed at which internal aging occurs: it can be influenced profoundly by exercise.
“Just because you’re 40, doesn’t mean you’re 40 years old biologically,” said study author Larry Tucker. “We all know people that seem younger than their actual age. The more physically active we are, the less biological aging takes place in our bodies.”
Are Telomeres the True Mark of “Biological Age”?
Scientists know that the rate at which people age is strongly determined by the length of telomeres, structures at the ends of chromosomes. Longer telomeres length is associated with slower aging, while shorter length is linked to faster aging. Therefore, any lifestyle practice that lengthens these critically important structures promotes longevity.
Research from Brigham Young University showed exercise has a lengthening effect on telomeres. It discovered that people who engage in high levels of activity regularly have significantly longer telomeres than those who are moderately active, as well as those who are sedentary. The data suggested high-level exercisers had a seven-year longevity advantage over moderate-level exercisers and a nine-year advantage over those who are sedentary.
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But, how is high-level exercise defined?
To fit in this category, women have to jog or engage in an equally vigorous activity for 30 minutes per day, and men have to do the same for 40 minutes per day. Moreover, the workouts need to be done five days per week.
“We know that regular physical activity helps to reduce mortality and prolong life, and now we know part of that advantage may be due to the preservation of telomeres,” said Tucker.
Exercise Turns Back the Clock
These results add to findings from the Dallas Bedrest Study of 1966, which indicated extreme inactivity is devastating to one’s health.
After three weeks of staying in bed, the 20-year-old male participants showed several aspects of physical health that are characteristic of men twice their age. They experienced higher systolic blood pressure, faster resting heart rate, reduced muscle strength and increased body fat.
Following the three weeks of inactivity, the participants were put on an eight-week exercise program. The adverse effects of being sedentary were reversed, and some of the men’s health measurements were even better than their baseline levels.
Thirty years later, the participants were reevaluated. They had gained weight and suffered from higher blood pressure and heart rate.
Amazingly, after a six-month exercise program, their cardiac measurements returned to the baseline levels recorded in their 20s.
Regular Exercise Defies the Aging Process
In a 2018 study conducted at the University of Birmingham and King’s College London and published in the journal Aging Cell, it was revealed that regular exercise defies the aging process. The physical condition of a group of 125 amateur cyclists who engaged in the activity regularly, were compared to a group of sedentary adults by researchers.
Testing showed the decline in muscle strength and mass, along with the increase in weight and cholesterol associated with aging didn’t occur in the cyclists. Furthermore, their thymus gland, an organ that makes immune cells, produced as many immune cells as it does in a much younger person.
Professor Stephen Harridge, Director of the Centre of Human & Aerospace Physiological Sciences at King’s College London, noted that “the findings emphasize 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.”
Dr. Ross Pollock, who undertook the muscle study, and Norman Lazarus, Emeritus Professor at King’s College London and also a master cyclist, gave excellent advice:
“Find an exercise that you enjoy in whatever environment that suits you and make a habit of physical activity. You will reap the rewards in later life by enjoying an independent and productive old age,” they said.