We grey. We wrinkle. We gain weight and lose strength. We die. But do we have to gain weight and lose strength? And can we not just increase longevity but increase the quality of the longer life? There’s plenty of emerging evidence that the right exercise slows your aging process. From bones, to muscles, and it begins with the expression of your genes. In this post I’ll share several study results that suggest your genes don’t have to determine your jeans.
You are in control.
Even a moderate amount of exercise changes the way your DNA methylation occurs. If you’re unfamiliar, that means you have far more optimal health and reduced risk of disease. OK, so that’s long term. What happens short term? We’re into immediate gratification, right? How much better does your butt look in those jeans?
Plenty. (In case no one mentioned it yet today, you still got it girl!)
Early studies featured healthy young men. You know as I mention regularly, you need to ask, “so what, I’m not 20 and not a young man?” What about me?? Well, I’m glad you asked. Follow up studies featuring older adults show several things happen with the right dose of exercise:
Mitochondria production is renewed. These are your powerhouses of energy. It was until fairly recently accepted that deterioration and decline of mitochondria was a natural part of the aging process. As I shared in a recent presentation, there’s more to that statement. First, it’s not a natural part of the aging process. It only happens if you don’t do anything to prevent it from happening. You don’t lose muscle and cause sarcopenia (significant loss of muscle that can occur with age) unless you let yourself lose muscle and get sarcopenia by avoiding exercise and having inadequate caloric intake, including specific amounts of protein at the right time.
Which kind of exercise helps most? Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise, that is, both the type that gets you breathing heavy and resistance training should be a part of your exercise program. I’ve added examples of interval training exercise toward the bottom of this post.
Regular exercise reduces oxidative stress-related disease. Exercise is stress, just to be clear. However, performing a progressive exercise program that includes both adequate stimulation and adequate recovery (nutrition and time between exercise) increases your overall resilience. Inflammatory markers are reduced in regular exercisers.
You can reset your circadian clock. There’s a positive association between physical activity and genes that affect your circadian clock. If you’re not sleeping well such that you’re too tired to exercise, don’t wait for a good night’s sleep to start. Start the exercise to improve the sleep.
Do change your exercise after a poor night’s sleep. Instead of your high intensity intervals try a short and lower intensity session, outdoors, if possible. Instead of high-load strength training, substitute yoga (not something that challenges balance) or stretching. You will elevate your core temperature with exercise, and increase melatonin production with exposure to sunlight. Both play a part in resetting your clock and increase the likelihood you’ll sleep better the next night.
Boost youthful muscle tissue. Studies show there’s an altered gene expression after acute exercise in both young and older adults after high-load resistance exercise. Older adults in fact respond even better as you’ll read in the next paragraph. The combination of adequate energy, protein, and resistance training increases immune function and repair in skeletal muscle.
Reverse cellular damage that has occurred from aging. Getting breathless with interval training changed the activity level in 274 genes of younger subjects. In older adults almost 400 genes were improved. There were positive changes from moderate exercise and from weight training as well but the interval training wins by a landslide in the change in gene expression.
That means moderate exercise is still your foundation. Don’t go dumping it completely. You build fitness on a foundation. Establish the following habits so that exercise slows your aging process without causing injury:
- 1-2 interval training sessions a week (one to start, two once you’ve progressed)
- 2 high-intensity resistance-training sessions a week (beginners start light and progress to heavier loads over time)
- Moderate intensity exercise when you can between
- Make it a habit to move more every day all day (If your exercise makes you too tired to do that, you’re going in the wrong direction. Even if you sit at work, small things make a big difference in your movement.)
Assess how well your exercise slows your aging process
Are you performing strength training to fatigue twice a week? This is not about time. It’s a matter of quality. Reaching fatigue doing three exercises is better than stimulating 8-10 exercises with light or moderate weight training. The change in cellular activity of the muscles has to be great enough to influence gene expression. It’s relative to you. What’s light is something you can lift up to 28 times, what’s moderate you could lift 15-ish times, and what’s heavy you can lift 10 or fewer times. Exercise slows your aging process most if you pay attention to quality.
Are you performing interval training 1-2 times a week?
This is a matter of less time and higher intensity. Interval lengths of 20 seconds to two minutes will reap the greatest rewards provided they occur such that you need (and allow) recovery between them. Below are three sample Interval Training workouts.
Hard Interval Recovery Interval* Repeats
0:30 1:00- 1:30 8x
1:00 1:00- 2:00 5x
2:00 3:00- 4:00 4x
An interval is an all out effort. Just doing two different intensities isn’t enough. Your work interval has to be high enough intensity exercise for changes to occur. You should earn your recovery. *Recovery range means if you need longer take it! Don’t reduce it. Naturally, the longer the interval the lower the relative intensity will be. Your speed for instance would be reduced in order to run for two minutes compared to an all-out sprint for 30 seconds. [Substitute any mode of “sprint” for running including biking, elliptical, swimming, etc.]
FAQs about Exercise
Q: What about walking?
A: It’s the most often recommended exercise by doctors and physical activity guidelines. In recent studies supporting the fact exercise slows your aging process, beyond longevity, walking isn’t a feature. It’s a wonderful foundation. You can use it for intervals mixing in speed and hills or you can use walking for those moderate days. It definitely has a place but daily walks at the same pace same distance won’t improve your fitness and have yet to be associated with changed gene expression.
Q: What about the total amount of steps per day?
A: Your total number of daily steps is a good measure of your Non Exercise Activity Time, or N.E.A.T. It’s definitely associated more closely with obesity and overweight than is a formal “workout” of 30 to 60 minutes. That single hour will never overcome 23 hours of inactivity. So use it, but let that be a part of your whole program. Keep in mind there’s living longer, and living better during those years. Seek intervals and heavy weight training with a scientific connection to how exercise slows your aging process.
Q: What about the total amount of minutes of exercise per week?
A: The sliding scale recommending 150 minutes of activity a week or 75 of more vigorous activity don’t fully cover the type of exercise that changes gene expression. These are a good and basic beginning. These are foundational exercise goals. It’s more than a total of time; it’s a specific type and intensity of that exercise that is proving to turn back your clock. Exercise at a foundation level to decrease risk of disease and improve measures of health. Further improve your measures of health with higher intensity exercise.
Dial in if you truly want to live longer feeling younger.
Q: What if you like to do more exercise?
A: Two studies in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) compared doing the minimum recommended 150 minutes with doing more. Subjects in one study who did 3x the minimum, that is 450 minutes per week, mostly walking, gained significantly more longevity. That’s where benefits plateaued, but for those exercise lovers who did 10x the recommended 150 per week, there was no increased risk. In other words, more exercise slows your aging process only up to a point and then it won’t harm you. As a reminder however, listen to your signs and symptoms right now.
If you’re a female at midlife (subjects were both men and women ages 21-98) going through stress or changes, dialing exercise right now may not be the right time. Know that if “more” is your happy place, it can work! If you feel your best there, love your energy and life, you aren’t getting “more” benefits, but you are not putting yourself at risk or reducing benefits either.
The second JAMA study that looked at moderate to vigorous activity in middle-aged and older adults showed that those who engaged in higher intensity exercise about 30% of their weekly exercise time had reduced mortality. That’s about right where 1-2 short interval training sessions, and 10 or 20 minutes of weight training twice a week fit into your week of moderate and lower level activity.
Want SUPPORT for your stronger, older, lifestyle? Everything you need for exercise, mindset, and exercise nutrition after 50. It’s different, but it works. It’s never too late. This is how exercise slows your aging process.