Exercise prevents creakiness and illness in old age
While a lifestyle that includes lots of exercise helps you live longer, the effect is not very impressive. According to the animal study that Spanish physiologists have published in Longevity & Healthspan, exercise does have a more convincing positive health effect in old age.
The researchers, working at the University of Valencia, put one group of mice in a cage with a treadmill, and another group of mice in a cage without a treadmill. When the mice were young they ran 4.6 km a day. In old age they only ran 0.6 km per day.
The mice that could exercise if they wished lived to be on average 3 percent older than the mice that had no treadmill in their cage. So the effect of voluntary exercise on lifespan was negligible.
While physical exercise hardly extended lifespan in this study, the effect of exercise on the health of the mice was more impressive.
In the first figure below you can see how the amount of BDNF in the brains decreased dramatically in sedentary mice, but not in active mice. BDNF is a hormone-like substance that forces brain cells to develop. More BDNF means less likelihood of dementia and depression.
Although running doesn't do much to develop the muscles in mice's claws, running did reduce the decrease in strength in these muscles, as the second figure below shows.
Aging reduces our coordination ability. In a test in which the mice had to climb over a cord without falling, the mice that had exercised scored better than the sedentary mice, as the third figure shows.
And finally, the fourth figure shows that the mice that ran had a better condition: they were capable of developing a higher maximal speed.
"Lifelong spontaneous exercise does not prolong lifespan but improves healthspan in mice", the researchers write. "Exercise is an intervention that enhances function and delays frailty in experimental animals. These results stress the importance of this intervention to prevent human frailty and dependency."
Longev Healthspan. 2013 Sep 16;2(1):14.
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