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Beauty / Health and wellbeing | 14.10.2015

Is exercise the fountain of youth?

exercise-slows-down-ageing 

You’re only as old as you feel, right? So it seems obvious that if you exercise regularly and are fit, strong and flexible, you’re going to feel young and vibrant. But is there any scientific evidence to prove whether exercise does actually keep you young on the inside and out?

The answer is a big yes. A study published in the Journal of Physiology this year showed that active older people resemble much younger people physiologically.

Scientists are still not sure whether ageing is completely due to the passage of time and therefore inevitable, or whether lifestyle factors can slow it down significantly.

So to find out if exercise does, in fact, keep us young, scientists at King’s College London and the University of Birmingham in England studied 85 men and 41 women aged between 55 and 79 who bicycle regularly. They found that even the oldest cyclists had younger people’s levels of balance, reflexes, metabolic health and memory ability.

Exercise and ageing: does intense exercise make you look younger or older?

On September 29, the ABC’s Catalyst program took an in-depth look at the issue of exercise and ageing. Researchers interviewed in the program studied mice that had aged prematurely due to a faulty mitochondrial DNA repair system. They had greying fur, cataracts, decreased hearing, smaller brains, bigger hearts, anaemia and think muscles.

The mice were put into boot camp to see whether exercise would affect their ageing process, running on a treadmill from the human equivalent of age 20 to about 50, three times a week for 45 minutes.

The findings were amazing. Instead of suffering the premature ageing and looking wasted and grey, the mice stayed youthful and strong.

There’s plenty of evidence that exercise slows down the ageing process, but new research is finding it’s the type of exercise that matters most. Short bursts of high-intensity training rather than overdoing it seems like the way to go.

Catalyst looked at whether high intensity interval training can slow down the ageing process in just six minutes a week.

In the program, Professor John Hawley explains that the current health recommendations in Australia and most other nations are approximately 150 minutes a week of aerobic-based exercise.

But Canadian professor Martin Gibala has found that we don’t need to spend that much time exercising to see results, and that as long as the intensity is high, we can make big improvements in a fraction of the time.

Reporter Anja Taylor undertook four months of four, 30-second sprints, three times a week. By the end, her body fat had decreased from 26.6% down to 25.1%. So she had a 1.5% decrease in body fat and lost 5cm from her waist. Her V02 max also increased. This is a measure of cardiovascular fitness ­– top female athletes usually have scores in the 60s and 70s. The reporter’s V02 max started off at 36 and rose to 40, which took her from average fitness to good fitness.

The reason high intensity exercise works is because it places a lot of pressure on your system to produce high amounts of energy fast. Low-intensity exercise doesn’t use all your muscle, whereas with sprinting, you have to use all your muscles fibres at once.

This helps you get fitter, faster and has the added bonus of keeping you looking and feeling young, for longer. 

On the other hand, marathon running can have the opposite effect, especially on skin. Marathon running puts the body under extreme stress, which causes the body to release cortisol. Too much cortisol is suspected to break down collagen and elastin, which fast tracks ageing.

Add to that the ageing effects of ongoing sun exposure (and possibly not reapplying sunscreen during a long, outdoor run) and you can see why long-term marathon runners sometimes look older than their years.

You’ll find an interesting article on whether running makes you look younger or older here.

I think the upshot is that as long as you’re active ­ – regardless of the type of exercise you feel works best for you ­– you’ll be fit, have more energy and feel good about yourself.

And that’s gotta be the real fountain of youth!  


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