Turning Back The Clock: How Exercise Helps Us As We Age

Updated on January 3, 2020

A staggering 70 million Americans in their 50s and above have at least one chronic illness. Among the most common chronic conditions are heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke.

What’s more, 77% of older US adults also suffer from two chronic conditions. Another 90% of those in their mid-50s and older are at risk of high blood pressure.

Aging, as you can see, is a key risk factor for these chronic conditions. However, it’s never too late to start with healthy living practices.

Exercise is one of the healthiest and most important ways to slow down aging and counter its effects. Not only can it prevent the physical signs of aging — it can also add more years to your life.

Ready to learn how exercise can do all these? Then keep reading, as that’s what we’re here to share with you!

Exercise Can Literally Extend Your Life

While it’s better to start exercising at a younger age, there’s no deadline when it comes to being active. In fact, a study found that exercise added three years to the life expectancy of people in their mid-80s. What’s more, these folks used to be sedentary and only begun exercising at the age of 85.

It Can Help Prevent or Improve Sarcopenia

Many studies have already established a link between exercise, sarcopenia, and frailty. Sarcopenia, an age-related condition, results in the loss of muscle mass and strength. As a result, it also diminishes one’s balance and ability to carry out daily living activities.

Worse, people who have sarcopenia are at a much higher risk of falls and fractures.

Exercise is a common recommended sarcopenia treatment and prevention technique. Resistance training, for instance, fights off the effects of age-related muscle wasting. It appears to do so by promoting muscle protein anabolism.

In this way, exercise allows for an aging body to form proteins from amino acids. From here, it triggers protein synthesis, develops muscles, and converts protein into energy.

Endurance exercises can also help ease the symptoms of sarcopenia. These activities improve how your body uses energy. As such, they help you keep your energy levels high, which means you can stay active longer.

It Can Help Your Bones Stay Healthy

Osteopenia, or low bone mass, affects 34 million Americans. It’s also one of the biggest risk factors for osteoporosis. Experts estimate that osteoporosis affects 10 million people in the US.

Like sarcopenia, both bone conditions are age-related and can raise your fracture risks. After all, having osteopenia means you have less bone. Whereas osteoporosis leads to brittle bones, so they’re also easier to break.

Fortunately, exercising can help promote bone health through enhanced osteoblast activity. These effects appear to result from the mechanical stress that it places in the skeleton.

Osteoblasts are bone cells that create osteoids, or new bones. Aging, however, reduces the number of osteoblasts. So, by exercising, you may pump up your osteoblast supply to prevent bone loss.

It Can Help Reduce Stiffness and Creakiness

Exercise can also help slow down aging by protecting you from osteoarthritis. OA results from the thinning of the cartilage that lines the joints. It also occurs due to the decrease in the lubricating synovial fluid found inside the joints.

Pain, stiffness, and loss of flexibility in the joints are common symptoms of OA. This is one of the reasons elderly folks are often described as “old and creaky”.

In most cases, these age-induced joint changes result from a lack of exercise. Meaning, its effects will follow you all the way to your older years.

That’s why as early as now, move your joints more to help keep their synovial fluid moving. Also, staying active works out your cartilage, which then prevents them from shrinking. This also lowers your risks of suffering from reduced joint mobility.

In fact, exercise can still help ease the symptoms of people who already have arthritis. A study found that exercising reduced arthritic symptoms by as much as 32%. In patients with knee OA, physical activity lowered their disability incidence by 43%.

It Can Also Help Sharpen Your Memory

Staying healthy as you age should also include keeping your gray matter intact. Exercise has long since shown its positive effects on promoting brain health. Moreover, researchers have found that exercise can delay age-related cognitive decline.

Exercise helps you keep your brain healthy by boosting its “synaptic plasticity”. This refers to the brain’s ability to adapt and adjust to new information.

In addition, regular aerobic exercise appears to make the hippocampus bigger. The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for memory. By growing its size, exercising may help your brain retain and make new memories.

It Can Reduce Your Risks for Dementia

Dementia is a collective term for disorders caused by abnormal changes in the brain. These changes can affect a person’s cognitive and thinking skills. They can also trigger negative emotions and behavior.

In the US alone, around 10% of adults aged 65 and older suffer from dementia. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, affects 5.8 million Americans.

There’s some good news though: not all dementia cases are genetic. Physical activity is the biggest modifiable risk factor for these disorders. Meaning, you can reduce your risks for dementia by ensuring you get enough exercise.

In fact, a new study found that high-intensity exercises can counter these risks. Seniors who carried out these exercises saw up to a 30% improvement on their memory tests. These positive changes occurred only after three months of exercising.

It Can Slow the Aging of Cells

Telomeres are the tiny segments found at the very ends of the DNA molecules. They protect the ends of the chromosomes and keep them from attaching to one another.

Telomeres appear to have some control over the aging process. For one, they divide over and over again — like the rest of the DNA — throughout a person’s lifetime. When telomeres get too short, the cells can no longer divide, they become inactive, and they die.

One way these protective DNA caps get shorter is through aging. The older a person gets, the more times their human cells divide. On average, these cells can split anywhere from 50 to 70 times.

Regular exercise appears to have a lengthening effect on the telomeres. This lengthening may then slow cell aging, which may then add years to your life.

Start Moving More So You Can Slow Down Aging and Battle Its Effects

There you have it, some of the most impressive ways that exercise can help slow down aging. The possibility alone of extending your lifespan is enough reason to be more active. However, even if it’s not a guarantee that you’ll live longer, it will at least let you live healthier and better.

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