Aging takes a toll on the body, all the way down to the cellular level.
In older muscles, this damage is even more severe because the cells do not regenerate as quickly or easily. Their mitochondria, which produces energy, has diminished greatly.
However, a study published in Cell Metabolism suggests that specific types of workouts may reverse some of the damage due to aging.
Everyone knows that exercise is good for people, but scientists have very little understanding of its impacts down to the cellular level, and how they vary based on activity and the age of the exerciser.
At the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, researchers recently conducted a study on the cells of 72 healthy but sedentary individuals who were less than 30 years old, younger than 64, or older than 64.
First, participants were evaluated based on their aerobic fitness, blood-sugar levels, and the gene activity / mitochondrial health in their muscle cells. Next, each was assigned a specific exercise regimen at random.
Some were assigned vigorous weight training several times a week, others brief interval training just three times a week on stationary bikes (pedaling hard for four minutes, resting for three minutes, and then repeating this sequence three or more times), while others rode stationary bikes a few times a week, at a moderate pace for 30 minutes, and did light weight lifting on the other days.
The fourth group, the control group, did not exercise at all.
Researchers repeated the same lab tests given in week 1 after the first 12 weeks. Overall, every participant experienced improvements in their fitness and blood sugar regulations.
There were, however, some foreseeable differences.
For those who only exercised with weights, their gains in muscle mass and strength were greater, while those who did interval training had the greatest improvement in endurance.
The unexpected results were found when researchers biopsied the participant’s muscle cells.
In the younger subjects who went through interval training activity levels changed in 274 genes, those who exercised more moderately experienced changes in 170 genes, and those who lifted weights saw changes in 74 genes. Among the older age group, almost 400 genes were working differently now, compared to 33 for the weightlifters and only 19 for the moderate exercisers.
Several of the genes affected, specifically in the cells of the interval trainers, are thought to have influenced the ability of mitochondria to produce energy for muscle cells; subjects who did interval workouts showed increases in the quantity and overall health of their mitochondria, a result particularly prominent among the older cyclists.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Sreekumaran Nair, an endocrinologist and professor of medicine and at the Mayo Clinic, stated that the decline in the cellular health of muscles associated with aging was “corrected” with exercise, especially if it was intense. In fact, older people’s cells responded far more intensely than those of their younger counterparts. Dr. Nair states that this outcome suggests that it is never too late to benefit from exercise.
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