New research from the University of Birmingham and King’s College London, UK, has found that a lifetime of regular exercise slows the down the ageing process, including for the immune system.
The aim of the study was to assess the health of older adults who had exercised most of their adult lives to see if this had an effect on the ageing process.
For the study, 125 amateur cyclists aged 55-79 – 41 being female and 84 being male – were recruited. Those who smoked, drunk heavily, or had high blood pressure and other health conditions were excluded.
The participants were subject to a series of tests in the laboratory and compared to a group of young and old adults who do not partake in regular physical activity.
What did the study find?
Those who regularly exercise had no evidence of loss of muscle mass and strength. The cyclists also did not increase their body fat or cholesterol levels with age and the men’s testosterone levels also remained high, which suggests they may have avoided most of the male menopause.
The study also revealed that exercising had benefits that went beyond just muscle, as the cyclists had an immune system that did not seem to have aged either.
An organ called the thymus, which makes immune cells called T cells, begins shrinking from the age of 20 and makes fewer T cells. However, in the study, the cyclists’ thymuses were making just as many T cells as a young person’s.
Ageing doesn’t automatically make us frail
Professor Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham, said: “Hippocrates in 400 BC said that exercise is man’s best medicine, but his message has been lost over time and we are an increasingly sedentary society.
“However, importantly, our findings debunk the assumption that ageing automatically makes us more frail.
“Our research means we now have strong evidence that encouraging people to commit to regular exercise throughout their lives is a viable solution to the problem that we are living longer but not healthier.”
The research findings have been published in Aging Cell.