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Exercise, Stay Young!

A recent report in the New York Times recently caught our attention: A new study of the effects of exercise on aging shows that older people who are active typically resemble much younger people physiologically. The study goes on to suggest that how we age is, to a large degree, up to us.

According to the report, aging remains a surprisingly mysterious process. A wealth of scientific research shows that many bodily and cellular processes change in undesirable ways as we grow older. But science has not been able to establish definitively whether such changes result primarily from the passage of time -- in which case they are inevitable for anyone with birthdays -- or result at least in part from lifestyle. If the latter is true, it's possible that the "fountain of youth" could be found in staying fit.

Putting Pedal to Metal: We tend to think of older folks as being sedentary, but in this study, published in The Journal of Physiology, scientists removed inactivity as a factor in their research by looking at the health of older people who move quite a bit. The scientists recruited 85 men and 41 women between 55 and 79 who bicycle regularly.

All About the TestThe scientists ran the volunteers through tests to determine each cyclist's endurance, muscular mass and strength, among other areas. They also had the volunteers complete basic functional movement tests. 

The researchers compared the results of cyclists in the study against each other and against standard benchmarks of supposedly normal aging. If a particular test's numbers were similar among the cyclists of all ages, the researchers considered, then that measure would seem to be more dependent on activity than on age.

Photo I.D., PleaseAs it turned out, the cyclists did not show their age. Across the board, their fitness level remained fairly stable across the decades, and was much closer to that of younger adults. As a group, even the oldest cyclists had younger people's levels of balance, reflexes, metabolic health and memory ability.

However...The oldest cyclists had less strength than those in their 50s and early 60s and considerably lower overall aerobic capacities. Age does seem to reduce our endurance and strength to some extent, even if we exercise. But even so, these measures were higher among the oldest cyclists than would be considered average among people aged 70 or above.

All in all, the numbers suggest that staying active as we age does keep us younger. You might need to add another candle to your birthday cake next year, but you'll be having a lot more birthdays. Hippocrates got it right 2,400 years ago, explaining, "That which is used develops; that which is not wastes away."

 

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"The results of the study really shouldn't surprise us," Brent Holten says. "But it's great to see a study like this that reinforces many of the things we already believe: exercise helps keep us more vibrant, healthy and youthful."