Recent research shows that regularly exercising throughout one’s life can slow the aging process and prevent deterioration of the immune system.

Two articles, published in March 2018 in Aging Cell by researchers from the University of Birmingham and King’s College London proved that older people who have exercised all of their lives have the immunity, muscle mass and cholesterol levels of a younger person.

The studies looked at 125 amateur, non-elite cyclists aged 55 to 79, including 84 men and 41 women, who had been physically active throughout their lives. The criteria for participation in the study required men to be able to cycle 100 km in under 6.5 hours and women to cycle 60 km in under 5.5 hours.

For comparison purposes, two additional cohorts of adults who did not regularly exercise but were clinically healthy, were recruited; the first included 43 men and 31 women, aged 57-80 years and the second consisted of 30 men and 25 women between the ages of 20 and 36.

The participants took part in a series of tests which showed that the amateur cyclists who had exercised throughout their lives maintained higher levels of muscle mass and strength than the more sedentary groups. They also had lower body fat and cholesterol levels and the men had higher levels of testosterone. Finally, those who exercised regularly had lower instances of Immunosenescence, or deterioration of the immune system.

“The findings emphasize the fact that the cyclists do not exercise because they are healthy, but that they are healthy because they have been exercising for such a large proportion of their lives,” Stephen Harridge, a professor at King’s College London, said in a written release. “Their bodies have been allowed to age optimally, free from the problems usually caused by inactivity. Remove the activity and their health would likely deteriorate.”

The World Health Organization recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, but many older adults fall short of this recommendation.

Professor Janet Lord, from the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham said, “Hippocrates in 400 BC said that exercise is man’s best medicine, but his message has been lost over time and we are an increasingly sedentary society.

“However, importantly, our findings debunk the assumption that ageing automatically makes us more frail.

“Our research means we now have strong evidence that encouraging people to commit to regular exercise throughout their lives is a viable solution to the problem that we are living longer but not healthier.”

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