Would you like to have the immune system of someone decades younger? A British study found that working out regularly prevents the immune system from weakening and protects against infections. After following 125 long-distance cyclists, some of whom were in their seventies, scientists discovered they had the immunity of 20-year-olds.
“If exercise was a pill, everyone would be taking it,” coauthor Professor Norman Lazarus, 82, of King’s College London told the BBC. “It has wide-ranging benefits for the body, the mind, for our muscles and our immune system.”
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In the study involving participants between the ages of 55 and 79, researchers tested for blood markers of T-cells, which are structures that aid the immune system in attacking infections. They also tested people in the same age group who didn’t exercise regularly, along with younger adults between the ages of 20 and 36. A comparison of the blood test results showed T-cell activity was higher in the cyclist group than in the inactive group. The surprising part of the findings was that the cyclists were producing as much T-cell activity as adults in their 20s produced.
“You don’t need to be a competitive athlete to reap the benefits — or be an endurance cyclist — anything which gets you moving and a little bit out of puff will help,” coauthor Professor Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, at the University of Birmingham, related to the BBC.
It’s important to note that the cyclists were lifetime exercisers. The males were able to log 62 miles in 6.5 hours, while the females were able to complete 37 miles in 5.5 hours.
Getting regular exercise over a lifetime helped mitigate other signs of aging as well. The cyclists maintained muscle mass and strength, and their body fat didn’t increase. Although a common effect of aging is a thinning skeletal system, the bones of the exercisers only became slightly thinner.
Exercise Protects the Thymus Gland
T-cells are produced by the thymus gland, an organ that normally starts to get smaller at puberty. Because the older cyclists had as many T-cells as people in their twenties, it was apparent their exercise habit slowed the aging of the gland. Upon investigating the reason for the protection, the researchers found the cyclists had high amounts of a hormone called interleukin 7. Many cells throughout the body, including muscle cells, make interleukin 7, so they deduced that the increased activity of muscles during exercise produced more of the hormone, thus keeping the thymus young.
This is a significant finding because some scientists believe reduced thymic output is linked to mortality in older adults. As aging causes the thymus gland to shrink and produce fewer T-cells, it results in higher susceptibility to cancer, infections and autoimmune disease.
Exercise Increases Immunity Profoundly
In the authors’ discussion, they said human studies generating the assumptions that immunity declines and inflammation worsens with age don’t consider the effects of inactivity, which increases dramatically as people get older. They indicated that long-term exercise has a tremendous effect on T-cells.
“In conclusion, aging is a complex process involving the interaction of a number of factors, including genetics, environment and lifestyle. Our findings highlight that physical inactivity with age may be a profound driver of several aspects of immunesenescence,” the authors wrote. (Immunosenescence refers to the deterioration of immunity caused by aging.)
While it’s impossible to stop the relentless progression of chronological age, exercise can turn back the clock in regard to body functions, in some cases, by several decades. Once again, exercise has proven to act like a wonder drug of immeasurable worth.
The study was published in the journal Aging Cell.
Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at http://www.alternativemedicinetruth.com. Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.