We know that aging changes a lot of things, especially physically. We may not feel as strong or flexible. We may not be able to go as long or with the same intensity. And then there’s the 2-3 days it takes to recover. It seems the damage to cells in the elderly have a difficult time regenerating and recovering because the mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell that produces energy) diminishes in number and vitality.
So what can we do about that?
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota conducted an experiment looking at the cells of healthy sedentary men and women whom were either 30 years old or younger, or over 64 years old. Baseline measurements were taken including their gene activity and mitochondrial health in their muscle cells. Then they were randomly assigned to a particular exercise regimen. The choices were: vigorous weight training 3 times per week; brief interval training 3 times per week (stationary bicycles pedaling hard for 4 minutes, resting for 3, then repeating that sequence 3 more times); riding a stationary bike at a moderate pace for 30 minutes a few times a week and lifting weights lightly on other days; and the control group whom did not exercise. After 12 weeks labs were retaken.
While all groups who exercised improved in fitness scores and blood sugar regulation, the major difference was in the interval training. The group under 30 who went through the interval training had a higher activity level in 274 genes compared with 170 genes in the moderate activity and only 74 genes in the weight lifters. But in the over 64 year old group, they saw almost 400 genes working differently, compare with 33 for the weight lifters and 19 for the moderate exercisers.
Many of the genes affected in the interval training are believed to influence the ability of the mitochondria to produce energy. When these muscle cells were biopsied, it showed increases in the number and health of their mitochondria, especially among the older cyclists. This is good news! Certain exercise can actually “correct’ or reverse the consequences of aging in the cellular health of muscles.
The amazing thing is that exercise, as well as the foods we eat and our thoughts, changes gene expression. The choices we make everyday effects our body and extends all the way down to the cellular level. It’s never too late to make positive changes.