Something that crosses many minds, whether from an aesthetic, medical, or intellectual standpoint, is how to be the best you while you grow old. Those who exercise have seen obvious benefits as they age, increasing both mental and physical abilities and reducing the risk of illness.
The concern of losing your good health, sound mind, and general motor skills is always there for those who approach old age. However, as many already know, staying active can boost your performance on all levels, even as your body is wont to deteriorate from years of wear and tear.
A Mice Workout
Research published in February 2011 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences claimed that physical activity lowered or eliminated virtually every damaging aspect of aging in mice that had been genetically configured to grow old more rapidly. The experiment, conducted in part by Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, a professor of pediatrics at McMaster University in Ontario, tested how well the genetically mutated bodies of the mice repaired malfunctioning mitochondria (small organelles within cells).
Mitochondria mix oxygen and nutrients to give cells their energy. They contain their own separate DNA apart from the cells, and can multiply on their own. While multiplying, the mitochondria can acquire subtle genetic mutations, which can be corrected in a healthy, normal person by the cell’s own repair systems. In the aging process, the amount of mutations start to surpass the system’s capacity to make corrections, meaning that many mitochondria eventually do not work properly and die. According to many scientists, the loss of functioning mitochondria is an underlying component of aging in mammals.
When mitochondria begin to decline, the cells they are responsible for energizing deplete or die. In other words, this is why muscles lose their mass, hair loses its pigment or falls out, the brain sheds some weight, and skin cells die. The mice undergoing testing we missing the the repair system in their mitochondria, so they were growing old much faster than normal. At eight months, they were on par with a human in their early sixties.
The Findings: Exercise is a Fountain of Youth
One group of mice exercised, and the other did not. The ones who showed significant signs of aging (frail bones, graying fur, weak muscles, reduced brain size, etc.) were in the non-exercise group. The exercise group, who ran on a wheel for 45 minutes three times per week since 3 months of age, showed significantly less signs of aging. Their activity was about the equivalent of a human “running a 50- or 55-minute 10K,” according to Dr. Tarnopolsky. The active mice were running smoothly at eight months, with normal sized hearts, and muscle mass and brain volume similar to their beginnings.
The best feature was that although the exercising mice were just as genetically altered as the sedentary ones, at one year old, none of them had died of natural causes. By that time, the passive mice had all passed away.
Dr. Tarnopolsky has proven through many subsequent studies that physical activity “alters the course of aging.” He does not insist that each of us run a 10K three times per week, however. Mitochondrial health can be ameliorated through moderate exercise, as well, including weight lifting, and any number of activities in which a person can regularly participate.
Health Insurance and Aging
While you don’t need health insurance to remain active, you will benefit from the increasing amount of free preventive services offered with a health plan to prove to yourself how well you’re fighting the battle against age. (It doesn’t have to be a battle, either.) Smoothly transitioning into a healthy, later time in life requires a good amount of checking in with the doctor to ensure your progress is as expected. Being a healthy adult has many benefits and you can certainly stay physically young, but you are still not immune to the various environmental conditions we face that cause so many of our health problems.
Being covered means you have free services whenever you need them, including prostate screenings, mammograms, and exams for other conditions to which you may be genetically predisposed. Exercise can help you reduce your risk of health problems immensely, but you must also consider the other factors. A good health plan can set your mind at ease and help you take care of yourself very simply and cost-effectively.
1. Reynolds. NY Times Well Blog. Can Exercise Keep You Young?
2. Image: blog.timesunion.com