The Fountain of Youth

The Fountain of Youth


Ponce De Leon was looking in the wrong place…  when he was searching for the fountain of youth he should have checked out a gym!

We all know that aging comes with certain changes.  There are changes in body composition, losing muscle and gaining fat.  There is a loss of strength.  Maybe posture starts to sag a bit.  Maybe skin starts to sag a bit to! And then we start to see changes in function – you can’t do the things you used to.  Perhaps there is a change is cognitive skills.  And the risk for most of our chronic diseases goes up: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia.

But exercise can help either reverse, delay, or reduce the risk of all of these changes!

Yes, we know that exercise can help you hang on to muscle and cardiovascular strength that will, in turn, help you maintain function.  And it’s generally accepted the exercise can help reduce the risk of lots of different chronic diseases.  It’s been called the most effective medicine we have!  But we are starting to see that exercise effects the body on the molecular level, even changing your genes, in ways which can turn back the clock in a dramatic way.

Let’s take telomeres for example.  Telomeres are strings of base pairs found at the end of each of your strands of DNA.  They form a protective cap.  These telomeres take some wear and tear every time your cells divide (Most of your body’s cells are continuously dividing to replace worn out cells and to heal injuries). With each cell division the telomeres get shorter.  Until they are gone.  Now your chromosomes may unravel or start to stick to each other and you can pretty much kiss that cell good bye.  How can you keep your telomeres long and flowing like a super models hair in a shampoo commercial? Exercise.

And research has also found evidence that exercise increases skeletal muscle gene expression through epigenetic changes, increases the number and function of mitochondria and their genes, increases mRNA expression, and increases the number of skeletal muscle stem cells.

If you are worried about your cognitive function, exercise dramatically increases the levels of brain derived neurotropic growth factors.  This may be one element of the effects of exercise in people with dementia and Alzhiemer’s.  Several studies have found delayed or improved cognitive outcomes, increased self-efficacy and reduced hippocampal atrophy.  The hippocampus is the part of the brain thought most involved in memory formation and recall.  Exercise has been one of the most successful interventions.

But what about what’s really important?  I want to get carded when I buy alcohol at the grocery store!!

Exercise for the win again!  When researchers compared butt skin [*they wanted to make sure the effects they were seeing weren’t the result of sun exposure, which may or may not have worked depending on their sample] of sedentary and active people between the ages of 20 and 84, the skin on the active older butts was much more like the skin on the 20 to 30 year old butts.  No, they didn’t just stare at it – they took samples and looked at it under the microscope.  Even better, when they had a group of sedentary people over the age of 65 start an exercise program (just half an hour twice a week for six months) their butt skin got younger!

And if you don’t want to show the supermarket checker your butt skin, no worries!  When people are given pictures of identical twins showing just their faces, the ones that exercise are consistently judged to look younger then the sedentary sibling.

But if you really really don’t want to exercise I have one more solution for you – my bathroom mirror.  It is perfect.  I ALWAYS look awesome in this mirror.  I never have any wrinkles or frown lines. My pores are imperceptible. No zits or blemishes. I don’t have any grey hairs.  And there are never any of those weird beard hairs that come out of nowhere.  My skin look lit from within….  Of course the lighting is not great.  And the counter is wide, so you can’t get close.  And it has a sort of film on it that I can’t seem to get off….  But if you just hang out in my bathroom for the rest of your life you’ll look great!  Maybe I can figure out a way to run an exercise class in there….

Questions? Comments?  I’d love to hear from you!

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