The genetics seems to play an important role in our chances of living longer and better. Curiously, polymorphisms that are linked to greater or lesser longevity are also associated with physical qualities such as strength. Thus, the D allele and the DD genotype of the angiotensin converting enzyme gene are associated with a increased likelihood of achieving exceptional longevity (live more than 100 years and without any major disease), which may be related, at least in part, to a greater preservation of strength and muscle mass.
“The benefits of exercise are so powerful at any age that, even in nonagenarians (90 years or older), its effects are appreciated”
On the other hand, carry the ε4 allele of the ApoE gene seems to have a negative impact on one’s longevity, which would have to do with a loss of muscle strength. However, beyond genetics, there is strong evidence that exercise allows living more time and enjoy a healthy aging.
When we grow old
Changes that occur during aging include a loss of muscle mass and strength, a process called sarcopenia. Although traditionally the sarcopenia has been seen as an inevitable consequence of aging, a research group wanted to evaluate whether it could be due rather to the reduction in the levels of physical activity that older people usually present.
And, indeed, the results showed that, contrary to what is usually observed in sedentary subjects, in those who did sports there were no differences in muscle mass between people of different age groups, not even in the over 70 years old. And although a decrease in muscle strength associated with age was found, the fact that in athletes it only occurred after the age of 60, something that occurs much earlier in sedentary people, shows us once again the protective role that the exercise in front of deleterious effects of aging. It is confirmed that the decrease in physical activity is one of the main causes of the loss of muscle mass and function and not aging per se.
Another of the changes associated with aging is a progressive decrease in cardiorespiratory fitness (measured as VO2peak). VO2peak is the main clinical indicator of health, so keeping it at optimal levels is essential for healthy aging. It is estimated that the VO2peak decreases around 1% per year from the age of 25 and it is accentuated after 70 years. Every time we have more evidence of the protective role that exercise could have against this functional decline. Proof of this is a recent review conducted by experts such as Pedro Valenzuela and Alejandro Lucía, and published in the prestigious magazine ‘Sports Medicine’, in which they demonstrate how exercising throughout life promotes greater functional capacity, attenuating the decline associated with age, compared to sedentary people.
Therefore, exercising throughout life seems to be an effective strategy to lessen or even avoid some of the effects of aging. This is supported by several scientific investigations, such as the one recently published in the revista ‘Aging Cell‘, where it was shown how the people of 55 to 80 years what have they practiced cycling throughout their lives they have practically no no aging-related deterioration in muscle properties (composition, type and size of muscle fibers, as well as mitochondrial content). Similarly, a systematic review with meta-analysis published in ‘Aging Research Reviews‘, a medical journal focused on the latest findings on the mechanisms of aging and age-related diseases, observed that people over 59 years old and who had at least 20 years training they had VO2peak and muscle strength similar to those of healthy young people, and better than that of older people who had not exercised throughout their lives.
One of the key processes in aging is the shortening of telomeres that, as we have written in this same space of opinion, is related to the risk of morbidity and mortality. In fact, those people with shorter telomeres have a 25% higher risk of death compared to those with a longer telomere length. Regular physical activity also slows down cellular aging and, as we recently read in a study belonging to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) In the United States, the telomeres of people with higher levels of physical activity had a greater telomere length equivalent to a biological aging approximately 9 years younger than sedentary people. In addition, the sedentary had the double risk of having very short telomeres compared to active people.
The benefits of exercise are so powerful and at any age that, even in nonagenarians (people aged 90 and over), its effects are appreciated. Thus, in another study led by Dr. Lucía, a group of people over the age of 90 who were in residences, and who carried out a training program combined cardio and strength exercise for 8 weeks, improved leg strength by 17% compared to those who did not exercise at all. It is confirmed that it’s never too late to start and take advantage of the many benefits of exercise.
The evidence is clear in this regard, concluding that it is important to stay active at any age, including the most advanced, to avoid exponential decay what happens with aging. Therefore, as long as there is adequate medical control, we should not be afraid to include simple and adapted exercise programs in this population. Finally, it is also important to know the negative effects of sedentary lifestyle, so in the Current situation in which it is recommended to avoid leaving the house, mainly, to the elderly, we must apply the necessary prevention strategies from today so that tomorrow is not too late.