Figures show that less than half of over 65s do enough exercise to stay healthy, but new research has scientifically proven that staying active keeps the ageing process at bay.
Researchers at King’s and the University of Birmingham set out to assess the health of older adults who had exercised most of their adult lives to see if this improved the trajectory of age related decline. Researchers recruited 125 amateur cyclists aged 55 to 79, 84 males and 41 females. The participants underwent a series of laboratory tests designed to assess every level of their health and fitness. The results were compared to a comparable group of adults who did not take part in regular physical activity.
The findings emphasise the fact that the cyclists do not exercise because they are healthy, but that they are healthy because they have been exercising for such a large proportion of their lives – Professor Stephen Harridge, Director of the Centre for Human & Applied Physiological Sciences.
The study showed that there was not a dramatic loss of muscle mass and strength with those who exercise regularly. The cyclists also did not increase their body fat or cholesterol levels with age and the men’s testosterone levels also remained high, suggesting that the male menopause is attenuated.
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Researchers at the University of Birmingham, headed by Professor Janet Lord collaborating with the team at King’s also found that the benefits of exercise extend beyond muscle health. The cyclists’ immune system also seemed to defy the typical ageing process. An organ called the thymus, which makes immune cells called T cells, starts to shrink from the age of 20 and makes less T cells. This study found that the cyclists’ thymuses were making as many T cells as those of a young person.
Norman Lazarus, Emeritus Professor at King’s and also a master cyclist who was part of the study group added: ‘Most of us who exercise have nowhere near the physiological capacities of elite athletes. We exercise mainly to enjoy ourselves. Nearly everybody can partake in an exercise that is in keeping with their own physiological capabilities.’
The researchers hope to continue to assess the cyclists to see if they continue to cycle and stay young.
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