There are a lot of different paths that you can take to attempt to extend your maximum lifespan. But, if you want any chance of actually reaching that maximum lifespan, there’s only one path that will produce the best results.
We want to extend our lives beyond the currently accepted maximum lifespan of 122 years. We want to live to see 130, 140…maybe even 150. But in the United States, unlike the maximum lifespan, life expectancy is only 79 years…actually a little less.
Now, longevity science is on the cusp of developing some really effective therapies for reversing the aging clock. But most researchers agree that the science is still at least a decade, and probably much more, from any real game-changing discoveries or technologies.
This means that for us, reaching life expectancy isn’t going to be good enough. Now, we are absolutely in favor of supplements and therapies that might extend a lifespan. But while extending the lifespan is one thing, we really need to make sure that we are on track actually to attain full, maximum lifespan.
And the one thing that has the best chance of getting there? Exercise. Dr. William Buchan, a Scottish physician from the 18th century, said it way better, “Of all the causes which conspire to render the life of a man short and miserable, none have greater influence than the want of proper exercise.”
Exercise will do more to make you healthy, keep you fit and allow you to live out your life to it’s the longest and fullest extent, that anything else. Now, of course, a lot of you are saying, “Oh man, I hate exercise!” – we hate it, too!
Seems like this world is filled with an elite few who love exercise, and then everybody else who hates it. And we are definitely in the latter crowd. But that doesn’t change the fact that exercise provides more anti-aging benefits than any other single thing that you can do.
Let’s take a look at what happens to us as we age. First off, our maximum heart rate, our maximum ability to pump oxygenated blood to our bodily tissues, decreases by about a beat every year.
So, the heart’s capacity to pump blood declines by about 5-10% every decade. So an 80-year-old heart can only pump about 40% as much as a 25-year-old heart. The blood becomes thicker and more viscous, the blood vessels stiffen, and blood pressure shoots up. The whole cardiovascular system starts to fall apart. The body becomes less sensitive to insulin, and blood sugar levels rise by about 6 points per decade.
The average man puts on an additional 3-4 pounds per year, even though we start to lose muscle mass. This extra weight is fat, and rising levels of adipose tissue cause LDL cholesterol levels (the BAD cholesterol) to go up and HDL levels (the good cholesterol) to go down.
And as we lose muscle mass, we become weaker, and this, combined with less capacity in our lungs to oxygenate our blood, means that we have less endurance. But we not only lose muscle mass, we also lose calcium from our bones, which makes us frailer.
Our muscles and ligaments become stiff and tight, reducing our flexibility. This, combined with a loss of range of motion in our joints, means that we also lose mobility. Hormone levels, like testosterone and human growth hormone, drop, and our nervous systems go into decline. Our reflexes get slower, coordination gets worse, memory fades, and we sleep less, which negatively impacts our ability to recover.
Now, most people think that all of this is simply caused by the aging process. That it’s just a part of growing old. But that’s not true. It’s not aging that causes all this. It’s inactivity. It’s neglect. It’s not using our bodies.
“Use it or lose it” has never been more appropriate than when applied to the aging of our bodies. Growing old is not what causes all of these declines in our bodies, but rather just the opposite. These declines that are caused by neglect are one of the primary causes of aging.
And these declines are not only entirely avoidable, but they’re also completely reversible. That’s a pretty radical statement. But the science backs this up. There’s any number of studies that back up this claim, but in the interest of keeping this article short, we’d like to refer specifically to just a couple.
The first was called the Dallas Bed Rest & Training Study, and it was done by the University of Texas SW Medical School in 1966. 5 men completed the study in 1996, and they started out as healthy young men in their early 20’s, at college. In all, they measured about 23 different parameters of the cardiovascular, pulmonary, nervous, musculature, skeletal, digestive, and metabolic systems to establish a starting baseline.
Then they were asked to spend 3 weeks of their summer vacation in bed. No activities at all, just 3 weeks of bed rest. Then they measured the parameters again. And the results were disastrous. All 5 had faster-resting heart rates. They had higher systolic blood pressure. Their hearts had lost the capacity to pump blood. They had a rise in body fat and a drop in muscle mass and strength. They saw a decline in every single parameter that they measured. So then, the researchers put them on an 8-week exercise program. And all parameters in all 5 men returned to baseline ranges, with most parameters exceeding baseline.
After an 8-week exercise program, all subjects were in better condition than when they began the study, in spite of the damage done by 3 weeks of bed rest. Then, they waited for 30 years before they tested them again. As expected, all of the parameters had gone into decline. On average, they had gained about 50 pounds each. Their body fat had doubled, going from an average of 14% to 28%. The cardiac function had declined; there was a rise in the resting heart rates, a rise in blood pressure, and a decline in the maximum pumping capacity of the heart.
There was a loss of muscle mass and strength, a decline in metabolic rate and in hormone levels, and an increase in LDL levels, blood sugar, insulin levels, and depression. But as much damage as 30 years of aging had done, it wasn’t as bad an effect as 3 weeks of inactivity.
Although the test results were much worse than the baseline measurements from their 20’s, they weren’t nearly as bad as when they emerged from the original bed rest. But the researchers weren’t finished with these guys yet. They then put them on a 6-month exercise program, which is why there were only 5 guys in the study.
However, many began the study, only 5 made it through to the end and finished the 6-month exercise program. And the results of that program were pretty interesting. Now, on average, they only lost about 10 pounds apiece. But remember, they made no changes to their diets; they only exercised.
The big change was that across the board, their resting heart rates, their blood pressure, and their maximum pumping capacities were, in fact, most of the other parameters had returned to levels that were almost equal to their 20-year-old baseline.
In every subject, exercise had reversed almost 100% of the 30-year age-related declines in aerobic fitness.
But let’s look at it from another point-of-view. Telomere length is a major factor in determining one’s biological age. The longer your telomeres, the younger your biological age. We’ve invested a lot of research into discovering ways to increase the lengths of our telomeres, particularly by increasing the activity of telomerase, an enzyme that grows telomere length.
There was a study published in the November 2018 issue of the European Heart Journal that examined the effects of exercise on both telomerase active and telomere length. They started out with 124 healthy but inactive subjects, aged 30-60, and they split them into 4 groups. A control group and then 3 other groups, each doing a different form of exercise for 45 minutes, 3 times a week.
One group did 45 minutes of aerobics, walking or running at 60% of their maximum heart rate. A second group did the 4×4 method of high-intensity interval training. And the third group did resistance training, performing circuits of 8 machine-based exercises. The study lasts for 26 weeks, and in all 3 training modalities, they found an improvement in VO2max, which is a measure of the maximum utilization of oxygen in the tissues.
But in the aerobic and HIIT modalities, they found a 2-3 fold improvement in telomerase activity, resulting in an increase in telomere length. Unfortunately, the resistance trainers did not see a similar improvement. Another recent study of runners aged 55-72 found that their telomere lengths were virtually the same as those of 18-32-year-olds.
So, science doesn’t lie! Countless studies demonstrate that most of the markers that signify aging are, in fact, not caused by aging at all, but rather by inactivity. And exercising can return those markers to youthful levels.
So, let’s take a brief moment to examine the benefits of 3 different types of exercise on longevity. You can call the first of these endurance training, or cardio or aerobics. And it doesn’t matter how you do it, whether you go out and run at 60% effort for an hour or you perform HIIT, this form of exercise probably has the most benefits. It keeps your heart muscles supple and your arteries flexible. It lowers your resting heart rate, your blood pressure, and your blood’s viscosity. It boosts your heart’s peak ability to deliver oxygenated blood to your body’s tissues.
It reduces body fat, lowers blood sugar levels, improves insulin sensitivity, it boosts HDL levels, and reduces LDL levels. It helps to prevent neurological and psychological damage that can be the result of aging. It boosts mood, improves sleep, counters anxiety and depression, improves reflex times, and staves off the loss of memory.
And it reduces chronic inflammation, one of the major markers of aging. It also stimulates the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide plays a huge role in keeping the mitochondria healthy & functional. It also improves endothelial function, which in turn keeps the arteries flexible, lowers blood pressure and improves erectile dysfunction.
Next up is resistance training, and while it may not lengthen your telomeres, it has a host of other anti-aging benefits. First off, it staves off sarcopenia, which is the age-related loss of muscle mass. It can actually increase muscle mass, improving strength, and improving muscle motor performance and control. It’s also maybe the best thing you can do to preserve bone calcium, helping to stave off osteoporosis.
Finally, mobility training. It can improve flexibility. It can improve the range of motion in your joints. It can improve your balance. Having better mobility can help you to move more gracefully and avoid injuries, particularly those falling injuries that are so prevalent in the elderly. But the benefits of exercise extend beyond what we can see and measure. It also has a huge impact on the cellular level. I’ve talked before about the Hallmarks of Aging.
Well, exercise can have a significant impact on them. It can reduce DNA and mtDNA damage. It can improve systemic antioxidant defense and DNA repair. As mentioned, it can improve telomerase activity. It can also improve DNA methylation. It can induce autophagy in the brain, heart, skeletal muscle, liver, pancreatic and adipose tissue. It boosts a number of metabolic pathways, including mTOR, AMPK, SIRT, Testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin-like growth factor 1.
It improves mitochondrial function and biogenesis. It helps to regulate cellular senescence and reduces chronic inflammation by activating a bunch of anti-“inflamm-aging” pathways. And here’s the thing. It doesn’t mean that you have to become a gym-rat. It doesn’t take much exercise to have huge benefits. It’s not how hard you exercise or how vigorously you work out. It’s all about how consistently you do it. Doing some gentle form of exercise every day for 5 to 10 minutes is going to have a more massive impact on your health than any vigorous, hour-long workout done once every week or two. It’s really not about how hard you do it, but rather how consistent you are at doing it.