The road to the fountain of youth may wind through your gym’s weight room.
Last month, I referred to theories that suggested seniors could reverse the aging process by engaging in serious weight training. It turns out that this theory was based on a study led by Simon Melov of the Buck Institute and Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at McMaster University.
The study shows that resistance training can reverse aging in the muscle tissue of healthy senior citizens at the genetic level, according to a McMaster University news report. Tissue samples taken from study participants aged 70 and older before and after they underwent six months of twice-weekly resistance training were compared to similar tissue samples taken from healthy men and women aged 20 to 29. Analysis of the gene expression profiles, or the molecular “fingerprint” of aging in healthy, disease-free humans, showed that exercise resulted in a reversal of the genetic fingerprint to levels similar to those seen in younger adults. The study also found improvements in muscle strength among the senior participants.
“We expected to see gene expressions that stayed fairly steady in the older adults,” said Melov. “The fact that their ‘genetic fingerprints’ so dramatically reversed course gives credence to the value of exercise, not only as a means of improving health, but of reversing the aging process itself.”
The study involved examining mitochondrial dysfunction, the report said. Mitochondria act as the powerhouse of cells, and multiple studies have suggested that mitochondrial dysfunction is involved in the loss of muscle mass and functional impairment commonly seen in older people. “Results from this study confirmed there was a decline in mitochondrial function with age, but exercise resulted in a reversal of this decline in human skeletal muscle at the level of gene expression,” the university report said.
Muscle strength was also examined. Strength measurements samples taken before the resistance training began showed the older adults in the study were 59 per cent weaker than the younger study participants, but after the training, they were only 38 per cent weaker.
Tarnopolsky noted that four months after the completion of the study, a follow-up showed the older participants were maintaining the benefits they gained during the project, even though they were no longer doing exercise at a gym. Most continued to do resistance exercises at home. “They were still as strong; they still had the same muscle mass,” he said.
Not being a biologist, I am amazed to learn that weight living can make beneficial changes at the cellular level for aging baby boomers. And the other day, I came across a new Harvard study that claimed related cellular changes shed light on the entire aging process. But more on that another day.