Aging is a privilege, but the things that come with aging don’t always feel like it. Chronic inflammation, aching muscles, wrinkles, joint pain—these are all things that make you want to stay young forever. That’s why it’s so important to exercise. In fact, it’s one of the most important things you can do to stay young, together with eating well and getting enough sleep. If you do these, your body may stay young well into your later years.
Let’s have a look at how exercise can help you and your body stay young.
Heart Health and Exercise
Think of your heart as a leather shoe—if left too long sitting on a shelf somewhere, it turns stiff and dry and will break when you try to use it. On the other hand, if you keep it well-oiled and use it regularly without wearing it down, it will last for a very long time.
The heart works in a similar manner. You need to eat well and exercise the heart to avoid it turning brittle. Heart health is vital, as it regulates circulation, pumping blood—and thereby oxygen and nutrients—to the rest of the body. (1)
High-impact cardio training, particularly 4×4 intervals, where you give all you’ve got (or, well, 95%) for four minutes then do active recovery for three minutes and do it four times over, helps strengthen the heart and the circulatory system. (1)
The great news here is that your heart is a muscle that can be trained up until you reach the age of about 70—after that, it’s just maintenance. That means you need to start training before you reach 70, and the sooner, the better. A study showed that exercising four times a week, including doing 4×4 intervals, could make the heart and circulatory system of someone in their late midlife look like one of someone who’s in their thirties. (1)
It’s worth noting that low-impact cardio does not have the same effect, so it’s important to do things that really raise your pulse a few times a week. And if you think about it, it’s not that difficult—it simply requires you to dance around the living room for four minutes, four times in a row, every other day—or go for a twenty-minute jog, or fast cycle four times a week.
Running and Telomeres
Telomeres are those long tails attached to DNA—in young cells, they are pretty long, but as we age, they get shorter. They can also become shorter due to various stressors, meaning your lifestyle affects them too.
Now, the interesting thing is that it’s been noted that athletes have longer telomeres in their white blood cells than the average joe, while mice who get to exercise by running on a treadmill have longer telomeres in their heart muscle cells than those who don’t get any exercise. The good news? A study showed positive cell changes in the mice just after a single workout! The changes were small but significant over time. (2)
The conclusion? “Run, Forrest, run!” At least if you want to stay young…
Exercise Reduces Inflammation
Inflammation of the body can be caused by poor dietary choices, but it is also simply connected to aging. Research shows that it can potentially be reduced simply by exercising. (3)
Reducing inflammation in the body is important, as it’s related to an array of different diseases, ranging from heart disease to depression to arthritis.
While many may feel that exercise is hard to fit into their everyday life, the good news is that it doesn’t have to be—all you need is twenty to thirty minutes a day. The above-mentioned 4×4 intervals can be done some days, while other days a brisk walk, yoga, swimming, or even cleaning the house is perfect.
Remember that you shouldn’t always do high-impact cardio, as this has been linked to inflammation if you keep going for more than 30 minutes at a time. So keep it to high-impact cardio for short intervals four times a week and do things that are less strenuous on other days.
As you grow older, your cells do not regenerate as easily; the mitochondria, while producing energy, diminish in vitality and number. (4)
In a study done with 72 healthy but sedentary subjects who were either aged below 30 or over 64, it showed that high-impact interval training (yes, that again!) led to a change of activity level in 274 genes for the younger participants and almost 400 genes for the older ones. It also increased the number and health of the mitochondria. In other words: if you want your muscle cells to stay young, do 4×4 interval training four times a week! (4)
Exercise doesn’t only affect your insides but also your outsides. Your skin ages less when your muscles release proteins called myokines. These myokines are released by working muscles, meaning you have to work the muscles to make it happen. (5)
Bone Health and Exercise
Your bone mass decreases over the years. If it decreases too much, you develop osteoporosis, which in turn can lead to you breaking your bones or simply having a hard time moving.
To prevent this, you need to eat protein and calcium as well as doing your exercise. This is important in your youth, too, as that’s when you have the ability to increase your overall bone mass—after age 35 or so, you can only help prevent it decreasing. It’s particularly helpful to do weight training for this reason, so on days when you are not doing 4×4, try 20–30 minutes of weight training instead! Jumping is also good for skeletal health, so on days of doing 4×4 intervals, try squeezing some jumping in there, be it on a trampoline, while dancing, or while using a skipping rope.
Different kinds of exercise have different effects on the body. While 4×4 interval training is mentioned here as an excellent anti-aging prescription for your body, weight training is great for skeletal health, as is jumping. However, cortisol levels can be lowered by doing yoga, and high levels of cortisol have been linked to obesity and inflammation.
Remember that it’s important to warm up before starting any high-impact exercise, and stretching afterward is necessary to keep your muscles happy and healthy. (5)
To look and feel young longer, it isn’t just exercising that’s necessary—getting enough sleep on a regular basis, eating well, engaging in mental and social activities, and leading a lifestyle devoid of too much stress (or simply managing the stress through meditation and exercise) are also important.