The fountain of youth may be as close as the local gym.
In fact, people who exercise can dramatically stave off many of the physiological effects of aging, according to new research from the University of Birmingham and King's College London.
The study looked at 125 amateur cyclists between the ages of 55 to 79 and asked them to participate in testing under laboratory conditions.
It then compared the results of this group to those of a second group of 205 healthy but inactive adults ranging in age from 20 to 80.
The researchers found that the first group of older-but-active adults:
- Did not lose muscle mass and strength as they aged
- Did not increase their body fat or cholesterol levels with age
- Had immune systems that remained as vibrant as those of younger adults
In addition, the testosterone levels of the active, older men remained high.
Bob Holper -- a Rosemount, Minnesota-based master trainer with Life Time Fitness who is 53 years old -- says strength training and other types of exercise can have a life-changing impact on people who are 40 and older.
"The main benefits they see are increases of energy, flexibility, strength, balance and fat loss," he says.
Fighting the effects of aging
As we age, muscle mass declines and strength decreases. Simple day-to-day tasks such as household chores can become difficult.
"Our balance gets worse and worse, and we blame it all on just getting old," Holper says.
Mitchell Keyes, a Chanhassen, Minnesota-based personal trainer and senior program manager at Life Time, says many of the difficulties of aging come down to a fight against gravity.
"As we age, we become less and less resilient to gravity,” he says. “It pulls us forward and downward.”
The result is poor posture and pain. When it hurts to move, our instinct is to become even more sedentary.
Fortunately, switching to a more active and upright lifestyle helps us fight back against the ravages of time.
"We continue to strengthen and reinforce good movements patterns and strengthen those core muscles that keep us in good, pain-free alignment," Keyes says.
Holper says strength training can literally turning back the clock on your physiology.
"Many of my clients are stronger now in their 60s compared to when they were in their 20s," Holper says.
Tips for getting active
Despite knowing that activity is good for us, exercise can become a struggle as time passes.
"The biggest issue with aging is fighting the resistance to be sedentary," Keyes says. After we retire -- and have even less excuse to move -- the problem can get worse.
However, committing to exercise can dramatically improve our lives.
"Those who are active consistently have more enjoyment in their lives," Keyes says.
If you are struggling to get active, Keyes urges you to start modestly and to "focus on small wins."
"Don’t think that you have to kick your butt in the gym for an hour a day to be healthy and age gracefully," he says.
Group exercise and pairing up with workout partners also can increase your motivation and help keep you accountable to your commitment to exercise.
"That way, when you do have a setback, you have a good support network to get you back in the right direction," he says.
Holper says changes to your diet also can play a key role in countering the effects of aging and getting you ready for a more active lifestyle.
"Eat protein and healthy fats at every meal with fibrous vegetables, which increases lean muscle," he says. "Take out all of the processed foods from your diet."
He also recommends consulting with a personal trainer who can give you guidance and craft goals that are both obtainable, and that help you "reward yourself with things other than food.”