If one thing is inevitable in life it is that our bodies are going to age. It's a much loved mantra of fitness professionals, but nonetheless very true: exercise keeps you healthy. It boosts your immune system, keeps the mind sharp, helps you sleep, maintains your muscle tone, and extends your healthy lifespan. But can exercise and the type we do actually delay the ageing process? We don’t understand all of the reasons why we age. The process of getting older, looking older, and feeling older and the influence of genetics and external factors is still somewhat of a mystery.
But here’s what we do know: It is possible to adjust your workouts to keep your body “younger” at a cellular level. Before we look at HOW, I will just quickly look at the science behind it.
Your energy is generated by something called mitochondria, hundreds of organelles that live inside your body’s cells, working to take the food you eat and turn it into energy. Mitochondria function as the body's energy producers, the power stations if you like, inside our cells and play an important role in:
• Releasing Stored Energy
• Thermogenesis (heat production which burns up calories)
• Storage of Calcium Ions (important for muscles, neurotransmitter release)
• Cell Death
Their primary function however, is to produce adenosine triphosphate - the molecule that transports chemical energy within cells. As we age, the capacity of mitochondria to generate energy slowly decreases. Over the last couple of decades, all of the evidence researchers have collected indicates that something called mitochondrial dysfunction and the ageing process are intrinsically linked.
The one thing we know for certain is that the number of mitochondria as well as their capacity decreases with age. So keeping mitochondria functioning at optimum capacity, as well as keeping them alive, is important if we are to “delay” the ageing process at cellular level.
Multiple scientific studies have proven that exercise - in particular high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in aerobic exercises such as biking and walking - caused cells to make ribosomes, vital players in the synthesis of proteins, also received a boost from exercise - it increased their ability to build mitochondrial proteins, which explains the rise in both mitochondrial function and muscle hypertrophy. Other benefits of HIIT training also showed through studies to improve insulin sensitivity which would help prevent the development of diabetes.
However, it has to be a balance. Interval training is less effective at improving muscle strength, which typically declines with age. Muscle is somewhat unique because muscle cells divide less than others. Muscle cells wear out and are not easily replaced, a little like brain and heart cells. However, if exercise restores or prevents deterioration of mitochondria in muscle cells, there is a good chance it does so in other tissues, too.
Understanding the pathways that exercise uses to work its magic may make the aging process more targetable. The combination of 1-4 times of interval training (frequency depends on factors such as age, ability and so on) and 2 times of strength training combined with a diet packed with essential nutrients would be a winning combination if your goal is to keep your body feeling young.
Most people don’t just have “feeling young” as their goal so this is why it becomes a bit more tricky. For a goal such as “optimum cardiovascular performance” for example one would need exercise not only at anaerobic heart rate levels whilst doing HIIT but also at aerobic heart rate levels such as low to medium (70% of maximum heart rate) effort and at aerobic threshold (about 90% of maximum heart rate) effort.
Bottom line is, we can’t stop the ageing process as such – but what we can do is help to keep our bodies in the best shape possible in order to enjoy life at whatever stage or age we are at to the fullest.
If you would need any further clarification or further information and/or assistance than please contact me.