Effects of Exercise on Aging


Effects of Exercise on AgingToday’s article is about the effects of exercise on elderly folks. It’s a shame that a lot of older people still have the mindset that exercise is dangerous, or that all they should do is walk to keep their hearts healthy. I find it disturbing that our medical community perpetuates this nonsense.

In looking at the scientific literature, it’s quite clear that exercise is key to aging well, along with good nutrition.  Exercise keeps you healthy, regardless if you are 25 years old or 75 years old. Exercises boosts your immune system, keeps the mind sharp, helps you sleep, maintains your muscular strength, and extends your healthy lifespan.

The latest research has gone a level deeper than that before, as scientists are now looking into how exercise impacts folks at the cellular level.

A quick cellular explanation on aging

When one ages, the cells that rebuild or refresh key organelles deteriorate with aging.  So, the more we can stave off this deterioration, the “younger” we will feel, and truly be, at a cellular level.

Interestingly enough, on 3/7/17, a study was published in Cell Metabolism , showing evidence that  — and in particular high-intensity interval training in aerobic exercises such as biking – “caused cells to make more proteins for their energy-producing mitochondria and their protein-building ribosomes, effectively stopping aging at the cellular level.”

The Study

Let’s look at the study and then get into some of the details and practical applications, shall we?  Study participants included 36 men and 36 women from two distinct age groups; a “young” group between 18-30 years old, and an “older” group between 65-80 years old.  Each group was further divided into 3 different programs, as follows:

  • Participants performed high-intensity interval biking
  • Participants performed strength training with weights
  • Participants performed a combination of strength training and interval training.

The researchers took muscle biopsies from the participant’s quads and compared the molecular makeup of their muscle cells to samples from sedentary folks. The researchers also assessed the amount of lean muscle mass and insulin sensitivity.

The Results

  • Strength training was most effective at building muscle mass, which is really no big surprise. Interval training was less effective at improving muscle strength, which typically declines with aging.
  • High-intensity interval training, however, yielded the most significant benefits at the cellular level. The younger participants in the interval training group saw a 49% increase in mitochondrial capacity; while the older participants saw an even more dramatic 69% increase.
  • Interval training also improved insulin sensitivity, which indicates a lower likelihood of developing diabetes.
  • Finally, interval training was less effective at improving muscle strength, which typically declines with aging.

The Science

As we age, the energy-generating capacity of our cells’ mitochondria slowly decreases. By comparing proteomic and RNA-sequencing data from people on different exercise programs, the researchers found evidence that exercise encourages the cell to make more RNA copies of genes coding for mitochondrial proteins and proteins responsible for muscle growth.

Exercise also appeared to boost the ribosomes’ ability to build mitochondrial proteins. The most impressive finding was the increase in muscle protein content. In some cases, the high-intensity biking regimen actually seemed to reverse the age-related decline in mitochondrial function and proteins needed for muscle building.

The high-intensity biking regimen also rejuvenated the volunteers’ ribosomes, which are responsible for producing our cells’ protein building blocks. The researchers also found a robust increase in mitochondrial protein synthesis. Increase in protein content explains enhanced mitochondrial function and muscle hypertrophy. Exercise’s ability to transform these key organelles could explain why exercise benefits our health in so many different ways.

Comments from Head Researcher, Dr. Sreekumaran Nair

“There are substantial basic science data to support the idea that exercise is critically important to prevent or delay aging,” says Nair. “There’s no substitute for that.”

“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,” says Nair.

“Based on everything we know, there’s no substitute for these exercise programs when it comes to delaying the aging process. These things we are seeing cannot be done by any medicine.”


I found this study to be very interesting and gratifying.  For the older clients that I work with, strength training is not optional, and now we have good science to back it up at the cellular level, which is even more compelling.  If you truly want to age well and feel younger than your chronological age (which frankly means very little), make sure to exercise regularly and get your nutrition in order.


1.Robinson et al. Enhanced Protein Translation Underlies Improved Metabolic and Physical Adaptations to Different Exercise Training Modes in Young and Old Humans. Cell Metabolism, 2017 DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2017.02.009

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