Keep active may be the secret to staying young for both mice and men. Researchers from Canada’s McMaster University discovered that endurance exercise could halt the aging process in a group of mice, even though they were genetically engineered to age faster. These furry creatures continued to exhibit the same youthful appearance as normal mice after engaging in a treadmill exercise routine over a period of several months. In addition, the exercise program prevented premature aging in almost every organ of the morphed mice. Details on the mighty mice can be found in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The results of the analysis indicate that not only can exercise help to prevent an early death, it can also delay the aging process. The researchers said that the exercise routine provided nearly 100 percent protection against graying fur, hair loss, brain and muscle atrophy, and more. According to lead study author Mark Tarnopolsky, a Professor of pediatrics and medicine at McMaster’s DeGroote School of Medicine, “What really shocked us was the gonads, the spleen, liver — every tissue we looked at was made better with the exercise. It has a systemic effect and even prevented a slight shrinkage of the brain.”
The mice in the study were genetically engineered to have an age-inducing defect in their cell powerhouses, known as mitochondria. As mitochondria age, less energy is generated for cells in the body to run on. The mice were assigned to either an exercise or non-exercise group. The exercise group was forced to jog at a brisk pace on a treadmill for 45 minutes, three times weekly. After a five-month period, the researchers found that prevention of premature aging had occurred among all the mice in the exercise group. While these mighty mice remained active and looked as young as ever, the sedentary mice were inactive, more socially isolated, and less fertile, as well as balding and turning gray. Whereas the muscle tissue of the active mice was found to be completely normal, the tissue of the inactive mice showed signs of damage.
But the biggest discovery was seen in the mitochondria of the morphed mice. The mitochondria among these mice had gone from damaged to young and healthy. Experts have long-suspected that the accumulation of mitochondrial DNA mutations over the lifespan leads to the progressive decline in tissue and organ function, which results in aging.
Tarnopolsky noted that the results of the study are applicable to humans and he is hopeful that the outcome for the exercising mice will motivate people to get on the move. He remarked, “When you see the video with the mice barely moving and their sisters moving around healthy, that may shock them into getting their buts off the couch and get some exercise.”
Previous studies on genetically engineered, premature-aging mice have included calorie restriction and a variety of drugs that have had far less promising results. Regarding the benefits of exercise on health, Tarnopolsky pointed out, “Many people falsely believe that the benefits of exercise will be found in a pill. We have clearly shown that there is no substitute for the ‘real thing’ of exercise when it comes to protection from aging.”
The good news is that it’s never too late to get on that treadmill. Tarnopolsky noted that studies have shown that even those who have spent far too much time being sedentary can still reap the benefits of exercise, and gain energy, mobility and promote healthier organs. Take Tarnopolsky’s advice to “Get moving, get active and get your kids moving while they are young.” The road to fitness just may lead to the fountain of youth.