Regular exercise for a lifetime can slow down the ageing process and help in keeping the body active, a study claims.
Researchers assessed the health of older adults who had exercised most of their adult lives to see if this could slow down ageing. "We now have strong evidence that encouraging people to commit to regular exercise throughout their lives is a viable solution to the problem that we are living longer but not healthier," said Janet Lord from the University of Birmingham in the UK.
For the study, published in the journal Ageing Cell, the researchers recruited 125 amateur cyclists aged 55 to 79, 84 of which were male and 41 were female.
The men had to be able to cycle 100 kilometres in under 6.5 hours, while the women had to be able to cycle 60 kilometres in 5.5 hours. Smokers, heavy drinkers and those with high blood pressure or other health conditions were excluded from the study. The participants underwent a series of tests in the laboratory and were compared to a group of adults who do not partake in regular physical activity. This group consisted of 75 healthy people aged 57 to 80 and 55 healthy young adults aged 20 to 36.
The study showed that loss of muscle mass and strength did not occur in those who exercise regularly. The cyclists also did not increase their body fat or cholesterol levels with age and the men's testosterone levels also remained high, suggesting that they may have avoided most of the male menopause.
The study also revealed that the benefits of exercise extend beyond muscle as the cyclists also had an immune system that did not seem to have aged either.
An organ called the thymus, which makes immune cells called T cells, starts to shrink from the age of 20 and makes less T cells. In this study, however, the cyclists' thymuses were making as many T cells as those of a young person.