You might call it a story of mice and men—and here’s how it goes.
Once upon a time, some researchers from Canada’s McMaster University sped up the aging process on some test mice because the scientists were curious to see if endurance exercise could counter the mice’s accelerated aging. The mice were split up into two groups: the exercising group and the sedentary group. The exercisers were then put on a treadmill exercise routine—jogging at a brisk pace three times a week for 45 minutes each session—for five months. The sedentary group were… well. . . sedentary.
Almost magically, the exercising mice—even though they, too, were genetically altered to age faster—maintained their youthful appearance via the exercise regimen. But that’s not all. Exercising also prevented premature aging in nearly every organ of the test mice. The researchers say that the exercise routine “provided nearly 100 percent protection against graying fur, hair loss, brain and muscle atrophy” and more.
Well, maybe that’s the end. There could be much more to this story of age-halting exercise. The scientists indicated that the results of this study are applicable to humans, too—men and women.
Lead study author Mark Tarnopolsky, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at McMaster’s DeGroote School of Medicine, states, “What really shocked us was the gonads, the spleen, liver—every tissue we looked at was made better with the exercise. It has a systemic effect and even prevents a slight shrinkage of the brain.”
The test mice were genetically altered so that their cell powerhouses—the mitochondria—would have a rapid aging defect. What’s interesting about mitochondria is, that as mitochondria age, then there is less energy made for bodily cells to use to run on.
After the five months of exercising or being sedentary—depending on which group the mice were in—researchers noted that premature aging had been averted among the exercising group. They were as active and as young looking as ever and had robust muscle tissue, while the sedentary mice were not active, were more isolated socially, less fertile, turning gray, going bald and had muscle tissue damage.
One of the most astounding discoveries of this experiment, however, was that the mitochondria of the exercising mice went from damaged to young and healthy—reinforcing the idea that the accumulation of mitochondrial DNA mutations over a lifespan are the impetus behind tissue and organ function decline, resulting in aging.
Tarnopolsky points out that the study’s results apply to humans and hopes that this discovery will motivate more people to exercise regularly. “When you see the video with the mice barely moving and their sisters moving around healthy, that may shock them into getting their butts off the couch and get some exercise. Many people falsely believe that the benefits of exercise will be found in a pill. We have clearly shown that there is no substitute for the ‘real thing’ of exercise when it comes to protection from aging.”
But there’s even more good news to these anti-aging benefits of exercising: it’s never too late to start! Tarnopolsky says that studies show that even those who’ve been sedentary for too long can still get benefits from exercising, including more energy, mobility and healthier organs.
So, get moving! It could put you on a path to the fountain of youth.