Login | January 21, 2018

Exercise––the fountain of youth?

Pete’s World

Published: December 18, 2017

Well, tis the month of the year when we’ve begun to concentrate on a whole lot of gift-giving. So with that in mind I’ve got a great gift idea for those of you whose physical fitness may have been slipping away over the past year. Now my gift idea is a bit on the selfish side, but nonetheless, I think YOU deserve it. Yup, my idea entails you giving yourself what equates to the fountain of youth.

That’s right, the fountain of youth, aka exercise. Indeed, physical activity really does impart a slowing effect to the aging process. And today I’m going to go through a few short facts to prove it. But first let’s take a look at those nasty little physiological things that happen to us as we age.

Scientific studies tell us that as we grow older we experience countless physiological changes, skeletal, neural, immune, vestibular temporal, muscular, endocrine, cardiorespiratory and cognitive changes to name but a few.

Now out of this list, I’d like to concentrate on several of the more apparent age related maladies that can really affect our quality of life, especially as we begin to enter those “golden” years. These afflictions include an increase in muscle atrophy (reduction of muscle fiber mass), a loss in collagen elasticity, and a decrease in cardiorespiratory output.

That little triumvirate can lead to a devastating quadruple whammy: 1) losses in skeletal muscular strength, 2) diminished ROM (range of motion), 3) Reduced neuromuscluar conductivity (the speed at which electrochemical impulses propagate down neural pathways through muscles), and 4) a reduction in VO2 (maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilize during intense or maximal exercise).

In layman’s terms these translate into less strength, diminished flexibility, slower reaction times, and lower aerobic endurance. Ouch.

So from the strength and neuromuscular conductivity side, muscle force production decreases ten percent per decade after the age of 30, and explosive strength/power decreases after the age of 40. What’s more, both males and females experience reductions in gender specific hormone levels, testosterone and estrogen respectively.

Decreases in flexibility result from losses in the synovial fluid that lubricates the joints, thinning of connective tissues, and shortening of the ligaments.

And cardiorespiratory function? Current evidence indicates that VO2 decreases about ten percent per decade after the age of 25, this due to a combination of the following: increased rigidity of the heart, thickening of the left ventricle muscles along with a decrease in left ventricular volume, and possible increased heart size.

Now that’s some pretty heady stuff. But as I said, exercise can indeed stave off many of these age-related decrements in fitness.

For example, we know that resistance exercise loading, if applied in a proper and consistent manner, can induce a “more youthful” architecture to both muscle and its connective tissues (tendons, ligaments and fascia).

Furthermore, exercise science has discovered that muscle, connective tissue and its facial system react better when variations of angle, tempo and loads are employed (regular changes in the workout routine).

And if that’s not enough, those gender specific hormones that I mentioned, well, their levels along with a host of other important hormone levels, they all improve with regular exercise, especially resistance exercise.

Now with respect to cardiorespiratory function, those age-related morphological changes to the heart occur much slower when regular exercise is employed. Science has also proven that aerobic exercises improve the hearts ability to deliver oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. Thus, capillary density in the muscles increase, which means our metabolism improves - all the way down to the cellular level. As such, more oxygen and nutrients are available, and waste products are eliminated quicker.

Now this cellular level thing is actually a key component in the fountain of youth discussion, because it means cells can make more proteins for their energy-producing mitochondria and their protein-building ribosomes, effectively stunting the aging process at the cellular level.

I might also add that exercise boosts the immune system, keeps the mind sharp, and helps you sleep…all of which help to extend your lifespan.

So as you go running to and fro in that annual mad dash to procure gifts for your loved ones, go ahead and be a little selfish. Give yourself a gift - give yourself the gift of youthfulness.