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Exercise in later life may slow the effects of aging, study finds

Experts have identified another benefit associated with an active lifestyle

Older man running outside
Photo (c) Oleg Breslavtsev - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Arkansas explored some of the benefits associated with exercising in later life.

According to their findings, exercising into older age may help consumers stay young. Their work showed that regular physical activity can have a positive effect on the aging process from a cellular level. 

“There are functional benefits to exercise in muscle, even when performed late in life, but the contributions of epigenetic factors to late-life exercise adaptation are poorly defined,” the researchers wrote. “These data provide a molecular basis for exercise as a therapy to attenuate skeletal muscle aging.”  

Staying young into older age

The researchers conducted their study on aging mice. They had the mice run on a weighted wheel as often as they wanted to for two months and compared their health outcomes with mice of the same age who had a sedentary routine. 

To understand the effect of exercise on cellular aging, the researchers analyzed the DNA process of methylation. This is a process in which groups of cells cluster outside of genes, and it ultimately affects the ability to produce certain proteins. As the body ages, this process happens more frequently. 

“DNA methylation changes in a lifespan tend to happen in a somewhat systematic fashion, to the point where you can look at someone’s DNA from a given tissue sample and with a fair degree of accuracy predict their chronological age,” said researcher Kevin Murach. 

The study findings showed that the mice who ran on the weighted wheel for two months were eight weeks younger on a cellular level than sedentary mice of the same chronological age. The researchers explained that these findings are significant because many of these mice don’t live beyond two years old, and they had reached that benchmark by the end of the study. With regular exercise, the mice were able to slow down their biological aging. 

Though the study was conducted on mice, the researchers believe the findings also hold up for humans. They hope the message is especially clear for older consumers who don't exercise frequently: it’s never too late to start. Adopting an exercise routine, even at an older age, can have long-term benefits on the biological aging process. 

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