How Exercise Can Slow the Aging Process
While it is fairly well understood that exercise is important to one’s overall health and well-being, few individuals actually understand why this may be so. True, some individuals enjoy the increased muscle mass, strength and tone that comes from regular exercise, but there are far more benefits one can receive. Perhaps one of the most highly desirable benefits of regular exercise is the resultant slowing of the aging process.
How Exercise Slows Aging
The phrase “Use it or lose it” implies that one must use what one has in order to retain it, and this is certainly true of physical health. Put more simply, exercising your body on a regular basis can actually help you to maintain optimum physical health. Epigenetics, or the study of gene expression, has helped researchers understand how diet, exercise and even mental thoughts affect what our genes do. So while we cannot actually change the basic DNA that we are born with, it is possible that we can “tell” certain cells not to proceed with some illness they are hereditarily predisposed to.
It is believed that many of the undesirable effects of aging, such as weakened muscles, wrinkles, poor eyesight and hearing, failing organs and fuzzy mental processes, is a result of changes in cells as they continue to divide. All body cells contain chromosomes that, in turn, contain something called a telomere. Every time a cell divides in order to grow new cells, the telomeres get shorter. Eventually, they become too short for the cell to divide, and the cells then die. It is these dying cells that are responsible for the undesirable effects of aging.
Aerobic exercise, where the body is receiving enough oxygen throughout, is incredibly effective in strengthening cells and telomeres so that they can continue to grow and divide even as we age. Obviously, this means that our cells are less likely to die off and leave behind the weakened muscles, wrinkles and other effects of aging we so dread. Regular exercise can even help to maintain or grow the size of the hippocampus in the brain, which normally shrinks with age and can lead to memory loss or dementia. The solution, then, to effectively combatting the undesirable effects of aging is to continue with regular exercise–and perhaps even reward yourself and your hard work with a trip to the spa every now and again.