By Kevin Kolodziejski
New News About What Regular Exercise Can Do for You
If you have two to four free months — and an absolute surfeit of motivation — by all means, bicycle across America. Do so intelligently and what the late, great broadcaster Paul Sherwen repeatedly said about first-time Tour de France finishers will also apply to you.
You’ll be forever changed physiologically and become a better cyclist.
But let’s not shortchange an additional benefit to such an ambitious endeavor. The intimate type of travel. No flybys or train rides here. You’ll experience the USA the way it should be experienced, up close and slow paced.
Unfortunately, it’s the slow place that so often makes this plan improbable. Chances are you have a family and a job, so what are the chances you could leave either for that long?
Yet that shouldn’t stop you from experiencing a different sort of state that’s so salubrious and satisfying that once many people travel there, they do all sorts of things to remain. And the name of the place where if you approach its border on a bicycle, the guards open the crossing gates, no questions asked?
A More Youthful State.
Cycling: The Salubrious and Satisfying Staycation
But the fact that exercise done the right way can delay aging is old news you say, so old it probably predates derailleurs. That’s true. Dozens of previous studies have found if you exercise regularly as you age, aging is indeed delayed. So let’s review an old one so we can truly appreciate — and marvel at — the inherent hope found in a new one.
It comes from the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University and was published in November 2018 by the Journal of Applied Physiology. To assess cardiovascular fitness and overall health, researchers tested 70-year-olds and 20-year-olds who had exercised regularly for years, as well as 70-year-olds who hadn’t. While the tests ascertained that the older exercisers were not nearly as fit as the exercising twenty-somethings, they were found to be far healthier than their non-exercising counterparts.
So much healthier, lead researcher and director of the Human Performance Laboratory Scott Trappe told Medical News Today, that their hearts and blood vessels resembled those typically found in people 25 to 30 years younger. But today’s fact to marvel at today is not really about exercise’s ability to delay aging. It’s about what may at first strike you as far-out science-fiction and could actually cause Ponce de León to come back from the grave and say, “I told you so.”
An Elementary Explanation of Epigenetics
For you to fathom how reversing aging can indeed be science fact, you need to understand what two sets of researchers have been able to accomplish recently in their work with mice. And an elementary explanation of epigenetics would help with that.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences suggests you see your cell’s DNA as coming with an instruction manual and that epigenetics tells your genes which pages of the manual to read. It’s a reading that helps determine which genes get “turned off” or “turned on,” and the reading can be triggered or disrupted by a number of factors. Such as, infections, diseases, tobacco and alcohol use, environmental pollutants, stress, aging, diet, obesity, and physical activity, aka exercise.
How Aging Is Reversed in Mice
So researchers at the University of Arkansas’ Exercise Research Center worked with lab mice and four of the proteins in their bodies (proteins that we have, too) that have the ability to turn genes off and on. The mice were on average 22 months old, which equates to a human being about 73 years of age. Some of the mice were allowed to run on an unweighted exercise wheel one week. For the next 8 weeks, that wheel became progressively heavier by attaching magnetic weights to it.
Compared to the non-exercising mice, the exercise took the exercisers’ muscles to what a James Kingsland article for MNT called a “more youthful state.” A change that was dramatic enough for one of the UA researchers, Dr. Kevin Murach, to tell Kingsland, “Exercise is the most powerful drug we have.” We also have a second study that suggests the same.
A Second Study Shows How Aging Can Be Reversed
In it, researchers at the Harvard Medical School aged mice by making what another MNT article calls “cuts” in their DNA. Soon the mice looked and acted older. The aging was confirmed by an increase in insulin, glucose, triglycerides, and blood pressure, as well as overall systemic inflammation. But when the researchers gave the mice gene therapy (think of it as akin to the exercising you might do to rehab a knee “cut” surgically), they watched aging work in reverse.
When MNT asked the senior author of the study about this, Dr. David Sinclair said the study shows “we can have precise control of the biological age of a complex animal; that we can drive it forwards and backward at will.” The conclusion of the paper published in the January 2023 issue of Cell echoes that, declaring “a loss of epigenetic information is a reversible cause of aging.”
The Onus Is on You
A doctor not involved in the study, Dr. Santosh Kesari, a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, and Regional Medical Director for the Research Clinical Institute of Providence Southern California called the findings “very exciting,” but then added something: “Certainly, we don’t want to wait [for] 10, 20, or 30 years to do aging studies, so . . . .”
The onus is on you.
To find an exercise routine — that features cycling, obviously — that takes you to a more youthful state, whether you’re 75, 55, or 35 right now.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.