The best way to stay young really might be to keep moving. Research has shown physical activity can reduce inflammation in your body and improve heart health—both important for staying young beyond your years.
Aging results in chronic low grade inflammation that is associated with increased risk for disease, poor physical functioning and mortality. Strategies that reduce age-related inflammation improve the quality of life in older adults (1).
Regular exercise is recommended for older people for a variety of reasons including increasing muscle mass and reducing risk for chronic diseases of the heart and metabolic systems (2).
This recent study found that 4 hours of running per week increased average lifespan by 3 years. Surprisingly, time spent running added more time that it took to run, with each hour running adding 7 hours on average.
After 4 hours per week, no further improvements in life expectancy were noted (r).
NEWS: This recently published study compares High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) with resistance training and combined weights/cardio training. It found HIIT to be far more effective, particularly for older humans.
In some cases, the high-intensity regimen actually seemed to reverse the age-related decline in both mitochondrial function and muscle-building proteins.
Read more about this study and HIIT
Exercise reduces Chronic Inflammation
Only recently has exercise been examined in the context of inflammation, but these recent studies show that extended exercise programs generally reduce markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein over the long-term:
- In elderly Japanese women, a 12-week resistance training program reduced circulating levels of inflammatory markers compared to baseline; reductions in CRP were associated with increases in muscle thickness.
- American adults who engaged in frequent physical activity tended to have lower CRPs than adults who were more sedentary.
- In type 2 diabetics, (key term coming up) long-term high intensity resistance and aerobic training reduced inflammatory markers over the course of a year (independent of changes in body weight, meaning activity was the key factor).
- Endurance combined with resistance training reduced CRP in young, healthy women better than endurance training alone.
- In obese, post-menopausal women, a basic moderate cardio program lowered CRP without really affecting body weight either way over the course of a year.
- At the same time, though, several studies also show that exercise acutely spikes inflammatory markers:
- Volleyball practice elicits spikes in IL-6 in both male and female elite volleyball players.
- Acute exercise spiked CRP in cardiovascular disease patients (but a four-month exercise program lowered it).
- This table of inflammatory responses to strenuous endurance events shows some massive spikes in CRP, some up to 20-fold the baseline value.
Conclusion: regular exercise tends to lower markers of systemic inflammation.
Exercise Can Increase Your Energy Levels
One study found that six weeks of regular exercise reduced feelings of fatigue for 36 healthy people who had reported persistent fatigue (19).
In fact, exercise seems to be more effective at combating CFS than other treatments, including passive therapies like relaxation and stretching, or no treatment at all (20).
Additionally, exercise has been shown to increase energy levels in people suffering from progressive illnesses, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis (21).
Summary: Engaging in regular physical activity can increase your energy levels. This is true even in people with persistent fatigue and those suffering from serious illnesses.
Exercise Can Reduce Your Risk of Chronic Disease
Lack of regular physical activity is a primary cause of chronic disease (22).
Summary: Daily physical activity is essential to maintaining a healthy weight and reducing the risk of chronic disease.
It Can Help With Relaxation and Sleep Quality
In regards to sleep quality, the energy depletion that occurs during exercise stimulates recuperative processes during sleep (38).
Moreover, the increase in body temperature that occurs during exercise is thought to improve sleep quality by helping it drop during sleep (39).
One study found that 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week can provide up to a 65% improvement in sleep quality (40).
Another showed that 16 weeks of physical activity increased sleep quality and helped 17 people with insomnia sleep longer and more deeply than the control group. It also helped them feel more energized during the day (41).
You can be flexible with the kind of exercise you choose. It appears that either aerobic exercise alone or aerobic exercise combined with resistance training can equally help sleep quality (44).
Summary: Regular physical activity, regardless of whether it is aerobic or a combination of aerobic and resistance training, can help you sleep better and feel more energized during the day.
Exercise Can Reduce Pain
Chronic pain can be debilitating, but exercise can actually help reduce it (45).
In fact, for many years, the recommendation for treating chronic pain was rest and inactivity. However, recent studies show that exercise helps relieve chronic pain (45).
A review of several studies indicates that exercise helps participants with chronic pain reduce their pain and improve their quality of life (45).
Several studies show that exercise can help control pain that’s associated with various health conditions, including chronic low back pain, fibromyalgia and chronic soft tissue shoulder disorder, to name a few (46).
Summary: Exercise has favorable effects on the pain that’s associated with various conditions. It can also increase pain tolerance.
It Can Help Your Brain Health and Memory
Exercise can improve brain function and protect memory and thinking skills.
To begin with, it increases your heart rate, which promotes the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain.
Moreover, the ability of exercise to prevent chronic disease can translate into benefits for your brain, since its function can be affected by these diseases (32).
Lastly, exercise has been shown to reduce changes in the brain that can cause Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia (36).
Summary: Regular exercise improves blood flow to the brain and helps brain health and memory. Among older adults, it can help protect mental function.
It Can Help Skin Health
Your skin can be affected by the amount of oxidative stress in your body.
Oxidative stress occurs when the body’s antioxidant defenses cannot completely repair the damage that free radicals cause to cells. This can damage their internal structures and deteriorate your skin.
Even though intense and exhaustive physical activity can contribute to oxidative damage, regular moderate exercise can increase your body’s production of natural antioxidants, which help protect cells (29, 30).
In the same way, exercise can stimulate blood flow and induce skin cell adaptations that can help delay the appearance of skin aging (31).
Summary: Moderate exercise can provide antioxidant protection and promote blood flow, which can protect your skin and delay signs of aging.