Want Your Muscles to Stay Young? Don’t Stop Exercising!

How can you stay young? Is it a magic potion, supplement, or treatment? Nope. It’s much more simple.

Muscles and Exercise

I’ve shared before that exercise, particularly weight lifting, has been shown to increase the stem cell numbers in your muscles even as you age. In fact, the muscle structure in older weightlifters has been shown to be similar to the muscles of younger weightlifters. There are local stem cells around the blood vessels, and when needed, these will migrate into the muscles to replace muscle stem cells. We’ve also seen that exercise and weight lifting improve the genes inside muscle cells, making them appear younger.

Now, a new study investigates the effect of aerobic exercise on the muscles and cardiovascular health of those over age 70 who have been lifelong exercisers. Let’s review.

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The Key to Keeping Muscles Young: Exercise

The purpose of the new study was to compare the cardiovascular and skeletal health of lifelong exercisers (aged 70 to 75) to healthy nonexercisers in the same age group as well as to healthy exercisers who were about 50 years younger (around age 25). Lifelong exercisers were defined as those who’d exercised at least five days a week for at least seven hours a week for around 52 years.

The results? Those who were lifelong aerobic exercisers not only were significantly healthier than their nonexercising counterparts, but they had similar muscle and cardiovascular fitness levels to the healthy 25-year-olds. In addition, the decades of aerobic exercise had drastically slowed aging by about 30 years, making those who were, for example, 70 years old more biologically equivalent in age to a 40-year-old.

This study should make us question whether health decline so common in aging is a true product of aging or whether it is primarily a result of decreasing activity, in which case we’d have a great deal of control over how we age. How exactly? Let’s take a look.

How Exercise Improves Other Effects of Aging

One body system that really seems to suffer as we age is our immune system. This is unfortunate as this system is responsible for warding off disease by destroying invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites, and even fighting rogue cells (such as those that would otherwise mutate and form cancerous tissues). Long-term exercise has been shown to not only keep the immune system at top performance as we age but research also suggests that in some areas, such as our production of T cells, our immune system in middle age and beyond acts like that of a young adult.

Some of us, unfortunately, are more prone to obesity than others due to our genetic makeup. Exercise, however, can override those obesity genes and keep us from gaining weight. In fact, the age 70 and older group is the one whose obesity genes are most positively affected by exercise. Your obesity genes aren’t the only genes that are benefitting from exercise; exercise also lengthens our telomeres. What the heck are telomeres? Telomeres live in our genes and protect our genetic information. In brief, telomeres shorten and become less effective at protecting our genes as we age. Exercise equals longer telomeres equals more gene protection equals less aging.

Exercise may also increase your life expectancy, so live longer as well as a way to stay young, even if you start later in life, as a sedentary lifestyle has been shown to increase the risk of death due to metabolic issues, such as diabetes and obesity, as well as cardiovascular disease.

If you’re keeping count, exercise may keep your cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, immune, and metabolic systems young and may even increase your lifespan…and that’s just for starters.

The upshot? Want to stay young? Exercise often and never stop!

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.