Raise your hand if you’d like to age successfullythat is, without acquiring a chronic disease, losing precious memory, gaining a few surplus pounds or suffering diminished mobility.
Most of us would like to age successfully, right? That being the case, after you’ve finished reading this article, lower your hand, turn off the computer, stand up and start moving.
Aging is like football: the best defense is a good offense. And if the latest research is to be believed, the most effective offense against the downside of aging is exercise.
Understanding the impact of exercise on aging cells is the first step. In an article in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol. 168, No.2, January 28, 2008, “The Association between Physical Activity in Leisure Time and Leukocyte Telomere Length,” researchers confirmed the beneficial impact of exercise at the cellular level.
The study was based on the observation that telomeres in white blood cells erode and shorten during the aging process. Consequently, their length and quality are biological indicators of human aging. Researchers hypothesized that comparing the length and quality of the telomeres in exercising and sedentary twins would indicate whether exercise had an impact on the rate of cellular aging.
In the London-based study of 1,200 sets of twins, researchers found that the longer, healthier telomeres of the active twin indicated a younger biological agesometimes by as much as nine yearswhen compared to the biological age indicated by the shorter, degraded telomeres of the sedentary twin.
Our brains may benefit from exercise as well. Dr. Waneen Spirduso, author of Exercise and Its Mediating Effects on Cognition, argues that exercise improves mental functions such as recall, learning and abstract reasoning. Exercise may even help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
No one is more enthusiastic about the neurological benefits of exercise than Harvard University professor and psychiatrist John Ratey, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. In “Exercise Is Good for the Brain,” an article in the Los Angeles Times (March 17, 2008), Dr. Ratey claims that aerobic exercise can delay cognitive decline by as much as 7 to 10 years.
Further, because exercise creates neuron growth, Dr. Ratey calls exercise “Miracle-Gro for the brain.” He believes that exercise is the single best tool we have for keeping our brain functioning at its highest level. Dr. Ratey also encourages us to exercise with friends so we experience the social benefit as well.
How ironic if the elusive fountain of youth turned out instead to be a foundation for youth, one built simply on regular, consistent exercise. Indeed, the evidence is so compelling that I’m turning off the computer and heading outside for a walk.