Anti-Aging Powers of Exercise



Turn Back Time

Exercise does far more than just keep your body humming—it can actually turn back the clock. More and more research shows that working out can help your brain, bones, heart, and skin look and act younger. “The secret to anti-aging isn’t about creams and lotions, but about how to build a foundation from the inside-out with a strong body and a sound mind,” says Kathy Smith, spokesperson for the International Council on Active Aging and star of the fitness DVD Ageless with Kathy Smith: Staying Strong. Here, we’ve found six ways that working up a sweat can help you look younger, feel stronger, and even live longer.
Sharper Brain

Doing Sudoku and crosswords isn’t the only way to keep your mind on its A-game. Science shows that getting your heart pumping may also enhance recall and sharpen your learning abilities. University of Cambridge researchers looked at mice and found that running stimulated new cells to grow in the brain’s hippocampus, or memory center. And those extra neurons paid off. A memory test showed the exercising mice performed better than their sedentary counterparts. Similarly, research in humans indicated that walking for 30 to 50 minutes three or four times a week can increase blood flow to your brain by 15%. Steady blood flow to your noggin delivers much needed oxygen, as well as washes away amyloid-beta protein to prevent buildup, which has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

The key is to get blood flowing to your brain, whether through cardio or just breathing deeply, so don’t underestimate the powers of yoga, says Belisa Vranich, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and member of the Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute. For an extra brain boost, take your workout outside. Outdoor exercise has been shown to increase your energy and alleviate depression more than indoor sweat sessions do.


Fewer Wrinkles

Pollution, gravity, and too much sun are all working against your skin, but before you turn to Botox, try hitting up the elliptical first. “Increasing blood flow to any area of the body promotes the metabolism in that area, and it makes sense that [when you exercise] toxins would get flushed out and cells will heal and grow faster,” says Jessie Cheung, MD, codirector of the Cosmetic Dermatology Program at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. In other words, more blood to your dermis provides a better environment for collagen growth and promotes younger-looking skin.Still, there’s a bit of a catch-22. Exercising at high intensities may leave your skin more vulnerable to the effects of gravity. The constant pounding of the pavement can cause your skin to sag, and if you drop too much weight, you’ll lose the layers of fat underneath your face, resulting in a droopy look.


Better Balance

Older people who exercise cut their risk of falling by 13%, according to a 2010 review study conducted by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force. That’s good news, because one in three adults over the age of 65 fall ever year, which often results in injury—even death.But working on your balance doesn’t mean holding tree pose all day long. It’s all well and good to be able to stand on one leg, but most people fall when they’re in motion. To train your muscles for real-life situations, try this jump-and-hold game recommended by Smith. Jump on your right foot and catch your balance, then switch to your left foot and hold. Change things up by jumping forward and backward, as well as diagonally.


Younger Cells

If stress kills, exercise can help you live to 100—just ask your cells. A recent study in the journal PloS One found that working out seems to counteract the effects of stress and cellular aging. Spanish researchers looked at a group of postmenopausal women and found that those who said they were stressed had shorter telomeres—DNA proteins at the end of chromosomes—but that those who were stressed and exercised had longer ones. Scientists use the length of telomeres as a biomarker of cell age, and their size has been linked to longevity. Researchers think that aerobic exercise enhances the process by which your body builds and protects your telomeres.


Stronger Bones

Research shows that weight lifting and resistance exercise — but not low-impact activities, such as swimming—increase bone mass in your hips and spine, where osteoporosis tends to hit the most. The reason: Your muscles are attached to your bones, so when your muscles are activated, they put stress on your bones in turn. Just as your muscles tear, repair, and grow bigger when you lift weights or do high-impact exercise such as running or jumping, your bones do the same, explains Smith.While it’s important to build your bones all over, you can focus on strengthening your hips and spine with moves like the chair squat, says Smith. Squat 10 times, resting your butt on a chair behind you each time. Repeat another set of 10, this time only skimming the seat.


Healthy Heart

Turn back time on your ticker with some cardio. A 2011 study in theJournal of the American College of Cardiology found that regular aerobic exercise prevents your heart from atrophying. (Like any other muscle, when your heart shrinks, it loses its strength. In this case, it becomes less effective at pumping blood to the rest of your body and can increase your chances of fainting.) While sedentary adults saw a decrease in their heart size over time, the hearts of lifetime exercisers over the age of 65 who worked out more than 6 days a week grew and were about the same size as that of sedentary people half their age.