The NYTimes reported on an extraordinary piece of research on exercise and aging by Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, professor of pediatrics at McMaster University.
After genetically programming mice to age at an accelerated pace, Dr. Tarnopolsky demonstrated that exercise reduced or eliminated almost every negative effect of aging.
The rate of aging process is determined by our body’s ability to repair malfunctioning mitochondria. ‘Mitochondria combine oxygen and nutrients to create fuel for the cells’, acting as power generators. Our cells are constantly repairing malfunctioning mitochondria.
Eventually in the aging process, there are too many malfunctioning mitochondria for our bodies to repair them all, leaving them to die. The physical responses to this process in humans is that our brain volume drops, our hair goes grey, muscles shrink and we appear old.
Dr. Tarnopolsky’s mice were bred with no mitochondrial repair mechanism, and developed signs of aging quickly. At the equivalent of 20 years in human terms, they were aging rapidly.
By the time they reached 8 months, or their early 60s in human terms, the animals were extremely frail and decrepit, with spindly muscles, shrunken brains, enlarged hearts, shriveled gonads and patchy, graying fur. Listless, they barely moved around their cages. All were dead before reaching a year of age.
There was a major exception for one special group of mice — the ones that exercised.
Three months into his experiment, half the mice ran on a wheel three times a week for 45 minutes, at brisk pace, for the remaining five months of the experiment.
In human terms, the mice ran a 6.2 mile race in 50-55 minutes. That’s faster than most people even speed walk. If you’re able to carry on a conversation with your walk mate, you’re not walking at this pace. In fact, you are running at this pace.
The mice that exercied not only had full colored, dense pelts of fur, but they also maintained nearly all their muscle mass and brain volume. Their hearts beat normally, gonads were normal and the anti-aging marvels could balance on narrow rods.
There’s more good news.
Although the Sensual and Superyoung mice still carried the gene defect, they had more mitochondrial in every tissue and bodily system studied. While not the first study to demonstrate the positive effect of exercising on aging in mice, the NYTimes writes that this study was by far the most comprehensive.
Dr. Tarnopolsky isn’t convinced that the pace of exercise of his mice is necessary for anti-aging benefits. We know that moderate endurance exercise and weightlifting can improve mitochondrial health. After seeing the beneficial effects on sex organs in the mice who exercise, Dr. Tarnopolsky’s students are all in motion.
More reading: mitochondria tag.