Can exercise compete with anti-ageing dietary supplements? Is it the veritable fountain of youth we have all been looking for?
Well, it could certainly be considered a good long drink of vitality, especially when exercise becomes part of a comprehensive program, as the following body of growing research demonstrates – that exercise prevents age retardation and helps to stave off age-related diseases.
Exercise is essential for our vitality
Our bodies are naturally designed to move, it is only in the twentieth century that our lives have become sedentary and when you’re involved in physical activity, you are doing some amazing things for your body,
The very act of breathing harder has an impact on improved health. Our body needs oxygen to improve transportation of oxygen pathways, this involves the lungs, muscles, and heart
That’s right – the fitter you are, the more energy your body has.
Research shows that prolonged rest is disastrous for our muscular and skeletal system, the Westernised diet has become high in fat, protein, and unprocessed foods; making our lymph sluggish, thus permitting the build-up of toxic waste products in tissue and around our joints.
This leads to ill health including edema, water retention, stiff muscles and joints, and obesity.
In addition, regular physical activity decreases chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, all of which we link to ageing.
Recent studies on exercise and aging are changing the way we think about ageing. A growing body of research suggests that what we might think of as normal aging, such as losing fitness and muscle mass, really has more to do with lack of activity.
Studies have found, that how much aerobic activity you do determines your levels of VO/2 or maximum oxygen consumption. This is a critical measurement of our body’s heart and lung performance; this measurement tends to steadily decline after thirty, and we begin to age rapidly, at a rate of about 1% a year.
As we age, we experience a decline in our cardiovascular fitness; age-related illnesses tend to occur at the rate VO/2 maximum starts to decline, this research has found that this decline does not have to be inevitable. When someone age 35, 55, or even 75 starts to work out, it is possible to restore these levels to that of someone much younger – energy levels increase and the health of our cardiovascular system becomes youthful.
The Bed Rest and Training Study
In 1966, five healthy men were asked to volunteer in a research study at the University of Texas Medical School. All they had to do was spend three weeks resting in bed. The men were then tested before and after exercise, what the researchers found, was devastating changes – this included faster-resting heart rates, higher systolic blood pressure, a drop in the heart’s pumping capacity, a significant rise in body fat, and a fall in muscle tone and strength.
What this demonstrated was that in just three weeks, these men in their 20’s developed many physiologic characteristics of men that were twice their age. As part of the study, the men were then put on an 8-week exercise program. Exercise did more than reverse the deterioration brought on by bed rest, some of the measurements were actually better than ever after the training.
The study was a demonstration of the harmful consequences that can take place of bed rest and when we are sedentary, helping to change the way we view medical practice today, by encouraging an early return to physical activity after ill health or surgery.
Bed Rest and Training Study 30 years on
The Texas researchers wanted to take this one step further and investigate the interaction between exercise and aging, the original subjects all agreed to be evaluated again at the age of 50.
All five remained healthy, and none required long-term medication, over the years, some of the men had gained 25% of their weight at age 20. Their average body fat had doubled from 14% to 28% of their body weight. In addition, their cardiac function had also suffered, with a rise in resting heart rate and blood pressure and a fall in maximum pumping capacity. Interestingly, in terms of cardiac function, the ageing process was not as severe as the toll of inactivity; at 50, the men were far below their 20-year-old best, but not as debilitated as they were after the three weeks of bed rest in 1966.
The men began an exercise program of walking, jogging, and cycling over a 6 month period, slow but steady endurance training ideal for those in their 50’s. At the end of the six months, the findings were fascinating, whilst the men averaged only a modest loss of weight of 10 pounds on average, their blood pressure, resting heart rates, and their heart’s maximum pumping abilities were back to the baseline level that they were at the age of 20.
What this tells us, is that exercise and training, even though it was moderate reversed 100% of the 30-year age-related decline in aerobic power, going to show that exercise does indeed slow the march of time.
The Dallas scientists contributed a great deal to our understanding of exercise and premature ageing, what it tells us is that endurance exercise protects the body’s metabolism from the degenerative effects of ageing in the following ways:
- blood pressure is decreased
- it lowers blood sugar levels and sensitises the body’s tissues to insulin.
- it helps to reduce body fat, it boosts the HDL – good cholesterol and lowers levels of LDL – bad cholesterol and triglycerides
- physical activity fights some of the neurological and psychological changes of ageing
- it boosts mood and improves sleep, countering anxiety, and depression. In addition
- it improves reflex time and helps stave off age-related memory loss
- exercise also decreases high blood pressure, encourages fat loss and the removal of toxins, improves circulation, and increases collagen levels, which helps to tighten and tone the skin
- muscle mass and joints also regain flexibility, preventing loss of minerals from our bones; helping to give the skeleton strength and structure
- it improves cardiovascular function, keeps the heart muscle supple and arteries flexible, lowering the resting heart rate, and boosting its peak ability to deliver oxygen-rich blood to the body’s tissues.
As you can see, there are some wonderful reasons why exercise is so important, using your body through walking, jogging, biking, swimming, racquet sports, rowing, cross-country skiing, aerobic dance, golf and using a variety of exercise machines will keep your body young.
The key is regular activity, start slowly and build up gradually to 3–4 hours a week. A program as simple as 30 minutes of brisk walking nearly every day will produce major benefits over time.