It is no secret that physical activity tones up muscles, protects bones and burns calories. But recently, researchers uncovered a new benefit: exercise acts as a powerful brake on the ageing process.

Defend your heart

Defend your heart

Scientists suspect that aerobic activities such as walking and swimming help heart muscle better defend itself against heart attack.

The cycle begins when free radicals ‘oxidise’ LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream. Over time, this damaged cholesterol accumulates on artery walls in the form of gunky, dangerous plaque.

When your immune system detects the plaque, it attempts to whisk it away. If a pocket of plaque bursts, it can create blood clots that cause a heart attack. But if your heart muscle pumps out chemicals that disarm free radicals—such as the superoxide dismutase pumped out by the heart muscle cells of exercisers—cholesterol never gets a chance to oxidise, and the process doesn't get started.

Exercise works by unleashing a helpful amount of free radicals. They're produced naturally by little energy-generating ‘machines’ in your cells, mitochondria.

Your body responds to this surge by pumping out more antioxidants and enzymes to mop up these villains. But if you exercise to exhaustion, the burst of free radicals overwhelms your defences.

 

Why exercise?

exercise

Studies show movement can:

  • Ease the ache of arthritis
  • Lower your Alzheimer's risk
  • Keep your bones strong
  • Soothe anxiety
  • Reduce your chances of developing diabetes
  • Lower your odds for colon, breast and prostate cancer
  • Help you to sleep better
  • Boost your energy levels
  • Help you to achieve your healthiest weight
  • Maintain muscle strength
  • Improve balance and flexibility
     

It’s never too late

never too late to exercise

Not exercising nearly doubles your risk of a heart attack. According to the British Heart Foundation, someone in the UK dies every 15 minutes as a direct result of physical inactivity.

Don't worry if you've never exercised before. People who don't exercise regularly may reap the most benefits from starting, especially if they add some strength-training moves.

Muscle strength declines by 15 percent per decade after age 50 and by 30 percent per decade after the age of 70, but resistance training can result in 25 to 100 percent strength gains or more.

Taking regular light exercise can offset the changes to muscle and tendon structure that occur as people grow older and which make them more susceptible to injuries and aching joints.

According to research at Manchester Metropolitan University regular gentle exercise in older people boosts muscle performance, strengthens tendons and increases muscular stability, strength and power—enabling them to remain mobile, independent and active for longer, as well as reducing the risk of falls.

 

Break out in a sweat

breaking a sweat sweeping leaves

‘Use it or lose it’ is the message, according to Dr Iain Lang, of the Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth. Along with US researchers, his team studied data from over 10,000 people aged 50 to 69 and followed them for up to six years in UK and US studies.

They found that those who did half an hour's vigorous activity three times a week halved their risk of physical decline and impaired mobility compared with more sedentary study participants.

Vigorous exercise could include mowing the lawn, sweeping leaves or heavy housework, not just sports—indeed, any activity that involves physical labour and makes you breathless or sweaty.

What's more, the benefit of exercise occurred across all weight ranges.

Irrespective of their initial body mass index, people who maintained a reasonable level of physical activity in middle age were more likely to be able to walk distances, climb stairs and maintain their sense of balance and hand-grip strength as they got older. And fit, obese people fared as well as, or better than, thin, unfit subjects.

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