You probably noticed that there are men in their 50’s and 60’s who look more like 40, whilst there are others in their late 30’s who look 10+ years older. Have you ever wondered why that happens?
So did we and researchers across the world. So, let’s take a look at the data and what conclusions scientists draw from it.
We brought you two studies, one from Texas, US and one from London, UK which were using different methods to find out if exercise had any effect on the aging process.
Before we dig deeper, let’s clarify what aging does to our bodies. The changes of aging in men who manage to stay away from major health conditions are slow and gradual but over time they show noticeable differences in fitness.
Aging in men
The maximum attainable heart rate will start to decline between the ages 25-30, whilst the capacity of the heart to pump blood also start to decrease. Therefore, an elderly man gets out of breath more easily than a young one, even if they both are otherwise healthy. From middle age a man’s blood vessels start to thicken, the blood itself also changes and becomes more viscous (thicker and stickier) hence harder to pump and in many cases the blood pressure starts to increase too.
In their 40’s men start losing muscle mass and if that couples with weight gain, they eventually become fatter by the year even if the weight on the scales doesn’t change. Even though men have lower risk of osteoporosis than women, they do lose calcium from their bones as they age which carries a higher risk of bone fracture. Some will not experience drop in their testosterone levels or reproductive capacity, but many will experience a gradual decline in libido as they age. Many of the physiological changes happen due to change in hormone levels, especially testosterone.
Nervous system also experiences change, reflexes become slower, coordination suffers and memory lapses. It is highly suspected that many parts of the aging process appear due to misuse, which then suggests that exercise may be able to have an effect on these changes.
The Practical Approach
An The Dallas Bed Rest and Training Study as published on the Harvard Health Publications portal in 2014 discusses a study conducted on men of age 20 and followed up on the same men 30 years later in Dallas.
In 1966 five healthy men of 20 years of age volunteered to take part in a research study at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. Their resting heart rate, blood pressure, heart’s maximum capacity, body fat, muscle strength and other factors were measured.
The young men were instructed to stay in bed for three weeks. At the end of their bed rest their body metrics were measured again. In only three weeks these 20-year-old men developed physiological characteristics of men twice their age, including increase in resting heart rate, rise in body fat, drop in muscle strength, etc.
The scientists then have put all participants onto an intensive 8-week exercise program, which more than reversed these deteriorations by the end, some of their measurements were better than ever before.
30 years later
The original subjects have all agreed to be evaluated at the age of 50 again. All five remained heathy, however, they gained an average of 50 pounds weight. Their average body fat doubled from 14% to 28%. Their cardiac function has also been affected.
The researchers constructed a gradual 6-months exercise regime for the participants to follow that included walking, jogging and cycling and was far less intense than the 8-week crash course 30 years before.
At the end of the six months the men averaged a modest 10-pound loss of their excess weight, but their resting heart rate, blood pressure and their heart’s maximum pumping abilities were back at the base level from age 20. Conclusion was that the exercise reversed 100% of the age-related decline in aerobic power in their case.
The Genetic Approach
In a British Study a group of over 2400 twins were studied in 2008 by Tim D. Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London. The participants filled out a questionnaire related to physical activity levels, smoking habits and social and economic factors. They also provided a blood sample and DNA was extracted from the white blood cells. These were analysed for the length of their telomeres at each end of the chromosomes. Telomeres are caps that protect our DNA and they shorten as we age.
Spector and his team analysed these telomeres examining whether there was a relationship between the subjects’ telomere length and how much exercise they’ve been doing in their spare time in a 10-year period.
Results showed that the white blood cell’s telomere length was associated with increasing physical activity levels in leisure time. After adjustments for age, gender, BMI, smoking, socioeconomic status and physical activity at work these relations were still significant.
People who did about 100 mins of moderate exercise per week had telomeres like those of 5-6 years younger of those who did the least – 16 mins. Those who did the most – 3 hrs of vigorous exercise per week – had telomeres that appeared to be as long as the ones 9 years younger of those who did the least.
This study concludes that sedentary lifestyle (in addition to smoking, high BMI and low socioeconomic status) influences the telomere length and may accelerate the aging process.
How to slow down aging?
Nobody can stop the clock but your lifestyle will determine whether your one is ticking faster or slower. Here are 7 habits you can control that will help slowing down the aging process.