It's well-established that consistent physical activity is a primary mechanism for reducing the risk of age-related health issues, from heart disease to cognitive decline and much more. But no one, notwithstanding staunch believers in the Fountain of Youth, actually think aging can be reversed. No matter how healthy we are, age marches on, one year after the next.
That's true, but new research provides intriguing food for thought that exercise can indeed reverse aging, at least when it comes to our muscles. And surprisingly, exercising when we're young isn't the only way to do it.
Researchers used a mouse model to investigate how late-life exercise impacted muscle growth. Mice were approximately 60 years of age in human years. After two months of exercising on progressively weighted running wheels (to build muscle), mice had an "epigenetic age" eight weeks younger than same-aged mice who did not exercise. For mice, that's about 8 percent of their total life expectancy – effectively regained via exercise!
Unlike chronological age, epigenetic age is a measure of biological age. As well all know, you can be 35 and unhealthy, 65 and healthy, or anywhere in between at any age depending on your lifestyle and other factors. Risk factors increase with age, to be sure, but chronological age matters little if your lifestyle puts you at risk for health issues.
So, is exercise the Fountain of Youth? Not exactly, but one thing's for certain: in terms of health, you're much better of staying physically active than sitting on the couch barely moving ... no matter your chronological age.