Science Shows Only This Workout Can Actually Make You Younger

Science Shows Only This Workout Can Actually Make You Younger
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Two Studies Found Links Between High Intensity Exercise and Anti-Aging

This past year brought some very interesting news about high intensity interval training (HIITs) and aging. HIIT training has been trending in fitness news for years. The latest news proves that this trend is going to stick around for a long, long time. Results from past studies are always favorable whether it’s for burning more calories or improving endurance. Now it’s gotten way better. High intensity interval training may now be the secret to getting younger!

Back in the beginning of the year I was interviewing the Chief Science Officer at the American Council on Exercise, Dr. Cedric Bryant. Their mission is to get the word out about the benefits of exercise and promote initiatives to make this happen. I write a blog about fitness and healthy living topics, so I do my part to inform the masses. During our conversation we started talking about my injuries and my crusty, stenotic spine that has an assortment of bulging and herniated discs (partially inherited, partially self-inflicted). “But I’ll never stop doing my boot camp workouts or Spinning” I chuckled! Then his eyes widened in agreement and he said, “there is some very interesting research coming out that a friend of mine was involved with…” He proceeded to tell me about a recent study done at the Mayo Clinic which revealed some surprising outcomes. Of all the methods of exercise they tested, only high-intensity interval training (HIIT) appeared to slow down aging on a cellular level. The study was recently published in March in the journal, Cell Metabolism

But the real surprise was that the older the subject was, the better the HIIT training worked!

Researchers know exercise is great for a myriad of things from cognition to staving off a variety of age related diseases. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what types of exercise could help rebuild organelles (the subunits within a cell) that deteriorate with age

1. The Mayo Clinic Study

The Mayo Clinic study enrolled 36 men and 36 women from two age groups, “younger” (18-30 years old) and "older" (65-80 years old) and placed them into three different exercise programs for a 12-week period.

But the real surprise was that the older the subject was, the better the HIIT training worked!

One group did high-intensity interval biking, the second group did all strength training with weights and the third group did a combination of strength training and interval training. The control group did not exercise. Biopsies were taken from the volunteers' thigh muscles and compared to the muscle cells of the sedentary volunteers. The researchers also measured their amount of lean muscle mass and insulin sensitivity.

What They Found:

It came as no surprise that the strength training group saw an increase in muscle mass. But, they found the high-intensity interval training group reaped the biggest benefits at a cellular level. The younger volunteers in the interval training group saw a 49% increase in mitochondrial capacity, and the older volunteers saw an even more dramatic 69% increase. Mitochondria are the organelles in every cell responsible for producing energy by burning carbohydrates, fatty acids and amino acids to create ATP, the cellular form of energy. We’d be dead without it.

Enhanced Protein Translation Underlies Improved Metabolic and Physical Adaptations to Different Exercise Training Modes in Young and Old Humans Robinson, Matthew M. et al. Cell Metabolism , Volume 25 , Issue 3 , 581 - 592

Dr. Sreekumaran Nair, a professor of medicine and an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic and the study’s lead author says it seems exercise, particularly if it was intense, “corrected” the decline in the cellular health of muscles that happens with aging.

Insulin sensitivity (the ability to regulate blood sugar), which reduces the risk of developing diabetes, was also improved by interval training. However, it did not improve muscle strength as much as weight training only. Muscle strength typically declines with aging. So there’s that.

What’s the takeaway for planning the best fitness regimen? Dr. Nair says, "if people have to pick one exercise, I would recommend high-intensity interval training, but I think it would be more beneficial if they could do 3-4 days of interval training and then a couple days of strength training." He says it’s the best method we know of for delaying the aging process, and there’s no substitute for these exercise programs. “These things we are seeing cannot be done by any medicine.”

2. The NHANES Study

But wait, there’s more good anti-aging news… if you love to sweat! The journal, Preventive Medicine, recently published a study which found that people who are the most active, may live the longest.

Larry Tucker, an exercise science professor at Brigham Young University found adults with consistently high levels of physical activity have a biological aging advantage. Specifically, a 9-year advantage over those who are sedentary and a 7-year advantage over those who are only moderately active. To be highly active, women had to engage in 30 minutes of jogging per day (40 minutes for men), five days a week. Or similar.

The reason has to do with telomere length. Telomeres are the endcaps of our chromosomes and are extremely correlated with age. Each time a cell replicates, we lose a tiny bit of the endcaps. Therefore, the older we get, the shorter our telomeres. Think of them as a biological time clock.

People who maintain consistent high levels of physical activity have significantly longer telomeres than those whose activity levels range from sedentary to moderately active. So the casual gym goer isn’t getting much by way of longevity compared to the couch potato. "If you want to see a real difference in slowing your biological aging, it appears that a little exercise won't cut it," Tucker said. "You have to work out regularly at high levels."

Tucker analyzed data from 5,823 adults who participated in the CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, one of the few indexes that includes telomere length values for study subjects.

After adjusting for factors such as smoking, obesity, alcohol use, gender and race, Tucker found that the most sedentary people had 140 fewer base pairs of DNA at the ends of their telomeres.

The study was based on self-reports about physical activity so it cannot prove there’s a cause-and-effect relationship between exercise volume and telomere length. But it does show an association which makes sense according to Tucker.

Experts believe that telomere length may be linked to inflammation and oxidative stress. Exercise has been shown to reduce both over time.

Of course there’s no guarantee that having longer telomeres will give you a longer, healthier life, but you will put the odds in your favor,Tucker says. “We all know people who seem younger than their actual age,” and “we know exercise can help with that, and now we know that part of that may be because of its effect on our telomeres.”

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