Have you ever observed cracks on the unused bicycle or car tires? And absence of such cracks on tires you use every day? If you haven’t yet, do it today. Because that my dear friends is the benefit of physical activity and the harm of a sedentary life.
Something like a tire is non-living, non-evolving. Contrary to that, our bodies are living and self-growing. Imagine what wonders could a regular usage of all body parts through exercise can do for you. The same was reinforced in a recent study presented at the 23rd annual meeting of American Medical Society for Sports Medicine by Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, professor of pediatrics and exercise science at McMaster University, Orleans.
But, first a brief priming session on the biology of skin.
Skin is made up of many layers, the topmost composed mainly of dead cells (better for protection) and inner layer, renewed every day. Inner layer is the one which provides suppleness and elasticity to the skin. But, with progression of age, the cells there begin to deplete. The overall skin texture becomes rough and wrinkled as the outer layer grows thicker.
And what is a healthy skin about: A thicker inner layer. (and no acne, of course!)
‘Kay, well primed. There you go!
How the “Reverse Aging” study was carried out?
Entering the scene, A Mice Colony
Like always, scientists took a colony of rats which were bred to age prematurely. The colony was divided into two groups, where half were sedentary, while other half were given access to spinning wheels.
As anticipated, those that lived a sedentary life rapidly lost vitality and grew frail and ill. Some even got a graying fur or went bald. Their counterparts on the other hand, displayed signs of healthy brains, hearts, muscles, reproductive organs, and better fur.
So, what this tells us is that, exercise might do the same for our human skin too.
Might. Hmm…because there is a fair chance it might not. And this called for human trials.
The human trial phase
To test the plausibility, researchers gathered 29 local volunteers aged between 20 to 84.
Just like the Mice phase, about half of the volunteers were actively involved in a physical exercise as per general health and fitness guidelines, while the other half led sedentary lives. Now, they were asked to uncover a buttock (weird) so, the skin that had not been often exposed to the sun could be examined.
That’s okay, provided we all are pretty aware of the wicked equation of sun, stress and time.
Anyway, the samples taken were sent for biopsy (microscopic examination). When compared against age, the samples gave out results as expected.
“Older volunteers (above 40) had thicker outer layers of skin and much thinner inner layers.”
Now, these results were further subdivided by exercise habits.
“Those who exercised frequently had thinner, healthier top layer and a much thicker inner layer of skin.”
Their skin resembled that of a 20- or 30-year-old more than it did of their counterparts. Great, isn’t it?!
But as you might have begun to wonder, the researchers too realized that this could have been so due to a lot of other factors. Factors like diet, genes and lifestyles, immensely influence the kind of skin one has. It was impossible to know whether exercise by itself had affected people’s skin or been incidental to lucky genetics and healthy lives.
There was only one way of ascertaining that…
Second phase of research begins
In the next phase, scientists asked the group of sedentary volunteers to exercise.
Their training program was somewhat like this: Aerobic exercise twice a week, i.e., jogging or cycling at a moderate intensity. For three months.
That’s it? Yep. That’s it!
Finally, the suspense unfolds with another skin examination. The samples received this time looked quite different. Very similar to those of 20- to 40-year-olds.
“I don’t want to over-hype the results, but, really, it was pretty remarkable to see. The skin samples looked like that of a much younger person, and all that they had done differently was exercise”, said Dr. Tarnopolsky.
How exercise changes skin composition is not completely clear yet. But, they have found a possible role of myokines (wiki) which jumpstart the reverse aging process. Apparently, these are chemicals secreted into the bloodstream in response to enhanced muscles activity.
The researchers are also investigating, if artificially injecting these chemicals in the bloodstream would deliver similar results.
Since the role of myokines is not clear yet, we’d not be focusing on them unless we have a solid proof. So, let’s just get back to how this study can benefit us. Besides, I don’t believe any pill can replace good old-fashioned hard work. The body works with what it has learned with time. How can we clone that physical conditioning with a pill?
Now the question is…
What is really meant by exercise?
In order to get the most out of anti-aging exercise and live the absolute life, all one needs to do is follow the basic exercise guidelines: 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. Now, ideally this should include 2 days of aerobic, 2 of total body strength training, and one day solely dedicated to either stretching, balancing or relaxation exercises.
The basic exercises of this kind have also been included in our soon to be out eBook, “Think Big, Start Small: A Beginner’s Bible to Fitness“.
Though, I’ve found that the easiest way to exercise is to tweak your lifestyle bit by bit.
Ditch car. Bicycle instead. Do a full squat while picking up anything from the floor. Ditch elevator and climb up the stairs. Instead of watching football on TV, go out and get yourself a real game. Even when you’re working, try to engage in a deskercise now and then.
It doesn’t take much to add movement to your daily routine. No gym membership or special time set aside just to exercise.
Use an app or a simple device like pedometer to gauge your level of activity and keep you motivated. (Find recommendations below)
A word of caution here: You must have noticed that those who exercise for hours outdoors usually have facial skin made leathery and wrinkled from sun exposure. Their faces and necks look much older than their age. So, prefer indoor exercise like running on treadmill, spinning, yoga, etc.. Those who exercise outdoors should get a good, sweat-resistant sunscreen. Try wearing full sleeved clothes when going out. Otherwise, the sun will nullify the effect of exercise.
Other benefits of exercise
- Aside from the purely physical benefits of regular exercise, I think the emotional and mental benefits cannot be overstated when it comes to overall health. Must we also recall that aerobic exercise is a powerful antidepressant and that human studies show it enhances cognition (memory) in the elderly. 
- Exercise also boosts blood circulation by promoting growth of capillary beds, which further nourishes the skin. This gives a natural flush and improves skin turgidity. As a result, less wrinkles!
- It also aids in primary and secondary prevention of several chronic diseases (e.g., cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, obesity, depression and osteoporosis) and premature death
- Good circulation also improves eye health. Now, who could have thought of that?!
Study after study seems to show that being active staves off the effects of age. We all understand that, living long is not synonymous with living well. I cannot say for sure the role of exercise in increased longevity, but it definitely does conditions your body so you can enjoy it, as opposed to struggling with it.
Also Worth Reading:
- Deskercises for you
- Couch Potato Alert! Sitting is The New Smoking
- Why Antioxidants are so Good for Anti-Aging?
References:  Tarnopolsky et. al. Exercise as a Countermeasure for Aging: From Mice to Humans. American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. 2014. ^Back to Top^  Kramer, Arthur F., et al. "Exercise, aging and cognition: healthy body, healthy mind." Human factors interventions for the health care of older adults (2001): 91-120. (pdf) ^Back to Top^  Langlois F, Vu TT, Chassé K, Dupuis G, Kergoat MJ, Bherer L. Benefits of physical exercise training on cognition and quality of life in frail older adults. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2013 May;68(3):400-4. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbs069. Epub 2012 Aug 28. PubMed PMID: 22929394. ^Back to Top^  Warburton DE, Nicol CW, Bredin SS. Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. CMAJ. 2006 Mar 14;174(6):801-9. Review. PubMed PMID: 16534088; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1402378. ^Back to Top^
Last Updated: April 23, 2014
Next Scheduled Update: June 23, 2014