Endurance exercise prevents premature aging

By Faculty of Health Sciences, February 22, 2011

    A study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that premature aging in nearly every organ in the body was completely prevented in mice that ran on a treadmill three times a week for five months. Here, the sedentary mouse (bottom) shows signs of premature aging, including balding, compared to the active mouse (above).

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Endurance exercise can stop you from looking and feeling old and may even help you
live longer, a study by McMaster University researchers has found.

The study, published Monday in the prestigious science journal Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences, found that premature aging in nearly every organ in the
body was completely prevented in mice that ran on a treadmill three times a week for
five months.

"Many people falsely believe that the benefits of exercise will be found in a pill,"
Mark Tarnopolsky, principal investigator of the study and a professor of pediatrics and
medicine of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine. "We have clearly shown that
there is no substitute for the "real thing" of exercise when it comes to protection from

These mice were genetically engineered to age faster due to a defect in a gene for
polymerase gamma (POLG1) that alters the repair system of their mitochondria - the
cellular powerhouses responsible for generating energy for nearly every cell in the

Mitochondria are unique in that they have their own DNA. It has been thought that
lifelong accumulation of mitochondrial DNA mutations leads to an energy crisis that
results in a progressive decline in tissue and organ function, ultimately resulting in
aging. But the study on genetically-disadvantaged mice found those who had
endurance exercise training three times a week looked as young as healthy mice while
their sedentary siblings were balding, greying, physically inactive, socially isolated and
less fertile.

"Others have tried to treat these animals with "exercise pill" drugs and have even
to reduce their caloric intake, a strategy felt to be the most effective for slowing aging,
and these were met with limited success," said Tarnopolsky.

"I believe that we have very compelling evidence that clearly show that endurance
exercise is a lifestyle approach that improves whole body mitochondrial function which
is critical for reducing morbidity and mortality," said Adeel Safdar, lead author and a
senior PhD student working with Tarnopolsky. "Exercise truly is the fountain of youth."

"The recipe for healthy aging is very simple, and that's exercise," said co-author
Jacqueline Bourgeois, associate professor of pathology and molecular medicine. "The
problem is that most people find it a difficult recipe to follow."

Tarnopolsky said he hopes that this research will motivate children and adults to
a healthier lifestyle and for government agencies to promote health and sport.

The study was funded by Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and
donor Warren Lammert and his family, who made an in-kind donation to support
Tarnopolsky's work in the Mitochondrial Disease Clinic and in mitochondrial disease
research. Adeel Safdar holds a CIHR - Institute of Aging doctoral research scholarship.


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