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The Anti-Ageing Benefits of Exercise

Updated: May 18, 2020


I HAVE SOME GREAT NEWS and want to share it with you....It has been proven that almost ANY AMOUNT AND TYPE OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY may actually slow the ageing process deep within our cells. Furthermore, it is reported that middle age may be a critical time to get the process rolling.
So there we have it....the answer to rolling back the years. Easy then, right? Well, I guess it's not easy, per se, but I would argue that some additional activity a week for most sedentary people is definitely achievable.
CREATING BARRIERS - What's your excuse?
I've heard many; too many to recount, but I'm not being flippant. I do understand that each person is different. What might be an achievable amount of exercise per week for one person, may be an absolute impossibility for another at any stage of life, but if we consider that these so-called "middle-aged years" often also happen to be when we are perhaps experiencing some additional stresses; (looking after young children, or even elderly parents, and/or have additional pressures of balancing all these with returning to work or progressing in a career), it's easy to allow activity to slip down the list of priorities. So, the vicious cycle continues; elevated stress levels, poor sleeping pattens, tiredness and lack of free time = reduced levels of activity.
It's true, the mental and physical stresses of daily life, can be overwhelming and energy sapping.
It's hard enough to change a habit, but when you're tired, it's even more difficult to motivate yourself to get out there and be active, but CAN YOU REALLY AFFORD NOT to address your activity levels? Are you aware of the risk to your health of not being active as you age?
Most of us are aware of the dangers of smoking, drinking, poor diet and stress when it comes to lifestyle disease, but there is now clear evidence that prolonged periods of physical inactivity contribute significantly to the risk of developing; coronary heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, cancers, obesity, mental health problems and musculoskeletal conditions such as chronic low-back pain.
So what happens to our body's systems as we age to make us more susceptible to these conditions?
As we age, we exhibit age related changes to all physical systems if they are not challenged and kept active.
Loss in functional ability
The reduced function of the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, pulmonary and nervous systems lead to less efficient physiology making everyday activities such as climbing stairs or going shopping more challenging.
Movement becomes more difficult due to the loss of muscle mass and strength, and can be painful due to the loss of cartilage in the joints. The old adage of "if you don't use, you'll lose it", is actually true as we age.
Nerve transmission slows due to a reduction of spinal cord axons (nerve cells) by up to 40%, and a 10% reduction in nerve conduction velocity, making movement slower as well as cognitive processes that control movement.
The contractile performance of the hearts left ventricle can lead to reduced blood flow capacity.
Lungs tissue becomes less elastic, making it harder for them to expand when breathing and reduces lung ‘power’ and the diaphragm and intercostal muscles, become weaker.
The arteries can become furred and harden, known as arteriosclerosis which can lead to increased blood pressure. The impact of this can lead to many problems including hypertension, stroke or thrombosis plus other conditions.
The reduction in the number of capillaries feeding muscle tissues causing the muscles to tire quicker as they do not receive as much oxygen as younger persons do.

Postural changes occur caused by changes to musculoskeletal system as the intervertebral discs become thinner and soften as well as the reduction of muscle mass. The supporting musculature of the spine that remains is weaker due to a lower number of fibres and the composition of the bones become less dense. This can lead spinal shrinkage or kyphosis i.e. stooping posture.
Hormonal changes
The extent to which the hormonal or endocrine system changes with ageing is large and complex. However the major changes can significantly impact a persons quality of life. This includes decline in pancreatic function leading to a reduced tolerance to glucose, thought to impact ~40% of 65-75 year olds and 50% of people ages 80s or over. If not treated correctly through diet and exercise this can lead to Type 2 diabetes.
A major and well-documented change impacting ageing females is the menopause, caused by reduced release of the female sex hormone oestradiol; one of the estrogens. This change is more subtle in ageing males, as testosterone (the male sex hormone) levels gradually decline but ultimately lead to male andropause.
The imbalance of hormonal activity can lead to many other medical conditions as well as many of the changes on the musculoskeletal systems and distorted sleep patterns.
In addition, chronic stress leads to cortisol being repeatedly released, and high levels of cortisol increase cell damage through oxidative stress. Cortisol also counteracts an important telomere-lengthening enzyme called telomerase. So, too much cortisol speeds up the shortening of our protective telomeres, and accelerates ageing.
Let's not get too depressing though.....while numerous individual causes can contribute to many of the symptoms of ageing, I would argue that an increase in the amount of, and a sensible approach to the type, of physical activity engaged in, can have a significant and positive affect on slowing the rate of physiological ageing, reducing stress levels and potentially play a critical part in rolling back the years.
There is indeed science to back this up. It has been reported that exercise can actually slow the ageing process at a cellular level by slowing the speed of decline of the telomeres of cells (check this article out for reference:
So, WHAT TYPE and HOW MUCH exercise should we be participating in to reap these anti ageing benefits?
The great news is that there is strong evidence that these (and 20 other chronic conditions) can be PREVENTED OR MANAGED by adults doing 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on at least 5 days a week.
To combat the physical symptoms of the ageing process, look for classes that specifically and appropriately challenge all components of fitness, but specifically; Balance, Proprioception, Strength, Flexibility, and Aerobic fitness, 3 -5 times a week.
In addition to Personal Training, classes offered by BST that are excellent for challenging all these components include Body Conditioning, Functional Fitness and FABS (Flexibility, Aerobic, Balance & Strength).
For more information on each of these classes visit the Treatments and Classes page of my website
Laying the Foundations of Ageing Well - Some Tips to Help You Begin Your Journey
Small changes can lead to significant health improvements, but make sure you are giving yourself a realistic chance of implementing them and more importantly, sticking to them.
  1. Look at all areas of your life; what are your priorities? Can they be broken down into work, home and personal life priorities?

  2. Identify these priorities, write them down and give them a number (if possible). Validate and examine each one. Once you have established what your priorities are, it is easier to apply appropriate modifications to your daily routine, that will have a positive impact on long term happiness and health.

  3. Try and determine if there are a few gaps in the diary per week, that you could fit in a short burst of exercise.

  4. Do you have specific fitness goals or are you wanting to improve general areas of health and fitness? Set yourself SMART goals; make sure your goals and objectives are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time bound.

  5. Look at diet, sleep, life stresses before applying a routine of activity.

Finally, you are likely to have more success at incorporating exercise into your life if you:

  • consult an exercise professional, exercise physiologist or physiotherapist for advice on exercising safely and avoiding injury

  • choose activities that appeal to you

  • track your progress (and feel good about your achievements!)

  • learn an exercise or two you can do quickly and easily for days when you’re feeling particularly time-poor

  • devise a realistic exercise plan for your lifestyle and routine.

Remember, any exercise is better than none, and you can make it quick and easy if that’s all the time you have. By making time for activity everyday you’ll be setting yourself up for better long-term health.

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