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Is Exercise The Key To Anti-Aging?

If you read magazines or the newspaper, watch TV, take note of billboard adds you can’t help but notice that anti-aging is a huge business and growing by leaps and bounds each year. With the growing number of baby boomers around the world, the anti-aging industry is thriving. Companies, entrepreneurs and cosmetic surgeons are eager to capitalize on the “forever young” mentality. Although aging is a natural process, we as a society have learned to yearn for that youthful look right through the golden years.

The research company Global Industry Analysts projects that the US market for anti-aging products will grow from $80 billion now to more than $114 million by 2015! This market includes cosmetic procedures surgical and nonsurgical, creams and other topicals, gadgets, supplements and exercise regimes. Most of these procedures are not covered by health insurance. Cosmetic surgical procedures can be $10,000 or more, human growth hormone treatment $15,000/year and even skin care products such as Peau Magnifique can cost $1500/day for a 28 day supply.

It is interesting to note that the National Institute on Aging in the US warns consumers to be skeptical of products that claim to “turn back time”. Their advice is to invest in yourself with things that work such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and not smoking.

So let’s take a look at exercise and it’s benefits as a weapon against aging. Results of a study by Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario were published this spring. The study of lab mice showed that exercise reduced or eliminated almost every detrimental effect of aging in rodents that had been genetically programmed to grow old at an accelerated pace.

Specifically they looked at the mitochondria organelles within the cells of the mice. Mitochondria are where nutrients and oxygen combine to create fuel for the cells. They are microscopic power generators. This holds true in humans as well.

Mitochondria have their own DNA, distinct from the cell’s genetic material. This DNA can accumulate small genetic mutations that can be corrected by specialized systems in the cell overtime. Scientists believe that it is the number of mutations that outstrip the systems ability to make repairs and the mitochondria start to malfunction and eventually die.

It is the loss in mitochondria that is believed to cause the normal process of aging. As mitochondria falters the cells they fuel whither and die. This leads to muscle loss, drop in brain volume, hair loss or loss of pigmentation and this leads to an aging appearance.

The mice used in the study lacked this mitochondrial repair system. They developed malfunctioning mitochondria early at 3 months, the equivalent of a human aged 20. By age 8 months (human age 60) these mice were showing clear signs of aging, frailty, spindly muscles, shriveled gonads, shrunken brains, enlarged hearts and patchy gray hair. The group of mice that exercised regularly however did not show these signs of aging!

Half of the mice were allowed to run on a wheel for 45 minutes three times a week beginning at 3 months. The pace was brisk. Compare it to an adult running 10k in 50-55 minutes. This regime was continued for 5 months. At the end of 8 months these mice were thriving. They had full pelts of shiny hair with no salt and pepper shadings. They had retained their muscle mass, brain volume with normal gonads and hearts. Their sedentary counterparts however were bald, frail and dying.

The healthy group, even though they carried the mutation that affected mitochondrial repair, their mitochondria had actually increased and had far fewer mutations. At the end of 1 year, all of the mice with regular exercise were still alive while all of the sedentary mice had died.

This study is significant and exciting since the researchers hadn’t expected to find that exercise would affect every tissue and bodily systems of these mice. Their expectation that mitochondrial health would be preserved in muscles was proven. The exact mechanism of precisely how exercise alters the aging process is unknown. Most importantly Dr. Tarnopolsky’s conclusion was “Exercise alters the course of aging”.

It is already known that weightlifting in older adults can improve mitochondrial health as can moderate endurance exercise. Dr. Tarnopolsky feels that there is probably a threshold of exercise that is necessary to affect physiological aging. The Center for Disease Control suggests 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise five days/week or 25 minutes of vigorous exercise 3 days/week.

It’s never too late to start. Even people in their golden years can slow down the aging process with exercise. Other factors included in slowing the aging process are avoiding tobacco, limiting alcohol consumption (no more than two drinks a day for a man and one drink a day for women) and good nutrition. Good nutrition includes eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein including fish.

Avoid high sodium foods, trans fats, cholesterol, added sugar and refined grains. People who engage in these four factors are 66 less likely to die early from cancer, 65 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and 57 less likely to die from other causes than people who did not engage in any of these four behaviors.

Anti-aging is all about providing the body with the healthiest of choices. Exercise can prove to be better for the body and thus better for anti-aging than any bottled product. A cosmetic procedure may make you “look better” but it won’t make you healthier or make you live longer.

Vicky Higgins
Vicky Higgins is an Oakville-based personal trainer who has had a lifelong passion for fitness, sport, health and wellness.

Vicky graduated from the University of Guelph with a Bachelor of Commerce. She enjoyed a successful career in the food industry in both operations and sales before leaving the industry in 2000 to stay home with two busy children.

Dedicated to her clients' success in achieving their goals, Vicky is committed to continually learning through attaining certifications and attending seminars in the fitness industry. Her most recent certifications include Precision Nutrition ( and The Biosignature Method (

Contact Vicky at

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