We’ve done a lot of writing about how exercise can be the best way of ageing successfully. We’ve written about how exercise can be medicine. We’ve written about Superagers, who don’t suffer the usual decrepitude of ageing, even when examination shows that they have the physical symptoms that mean they should be suffering from dementia, for instance, but they aren’t. We’ve described exercise in age as the true fountain of youth and we don’t intend to stop now. Because there is even more evidence of the truth of this, in a new study which shows how exercise operates at a fundamental level within the body to alter the commonly accepted course of ageing.
As 82 year old Professor Norman Lazarus, a co-author of the report and at the same time a subject of it, said ”If exercise was a pill, everyone would be taking it”.
The science behind the claims is a study undertaken at the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing which took as its subjects 125 long-distance cyclists aged between 55 and 75 and compared them with a group of 75 adults aged between 55 and 80 who had an inactive lifestyle and a group of 55 healthy younger adults aged between 20 and 36. The study demonstrated that exercise boosts the immune system in older people. The immune system is the body’s faculty for defending itself against diseases and infections and it has been widely believed that the decline of the immune system is an inevitable part of ageing. This study shows that this inevitability is not the case at all.
The study centred around a gland called the Thymus which produces T-cells, which play a vital role in the immune system. It has long been accepted that with age the Thymus produces fewer and fewer of these cells and that the cells themselves degrade over time. The cyclists, however, were found to have levels of the T-cells comparable with the younger group and far higher than found in the older inactive group. This is a huge boost for their immune system, making them much more resistant to a whole host of diseases common in age including among others rheumatoid arthritis and, potentially, cancer.
Although many of the cyclists undertake long distances, Steve Harridge, another of the report’s authors and professor of physiology at King's College London, said that it is not necessary to be a competitive athlete or an endurance cyclist to reap the benefits. Any type of activity that gets you out of breath will achieve something, although presumably the more intense the exercise the greater the benefit.
Incidentally, the cyclists also didn’t lose muscle and didn’t build up body fat - two symptoms of degeneration which are often and erroneously seen to be unavoidable consequences of getting older.
When you hear news reports about the problems caused by a growing population of older people, what you are really hearing about are the problems of a population of growing inactivity, something which is in no way confined to older people. So if you want to do your bit for a struggling health and social care system, get out there and do something for yourself - get exercising!