Doing lots of exercises at an older age can prevent the immune system from declining and protect people against infections.
Exercise, even in old age, is known to have a wide range of health benefits, from preventing disability to slowing memory decline. But a new study reveals that it can also protect the immune system. In the study, published in the journal Aging Cell, researchers looked at 125 very active adult cyclists who were between ages 55 and 79.
The researchers analyzed their blood for markers of T-cells, which are known to help the immune
system fight infections. The study authors then compared the cyclists to people in their same age group who did not exercise regularly, as well as younger adults between ages 20 and 80.
Not only was T-cell activity higher in the active adults than the inactive men and women, but the cyclists were also producing the same level of T-cell activity as young adults in their 20s.
“The immune system declines by about 2-3% a year from our 20s, which is why older people are more susceptible to infections, conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and, potentially, cancer,” study author and professor Janet Lord, the director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom told the BBC.
“Because the cyclists have the immune system of a 20-year-old rather than a 70- or 80-year-old, it means they have added protection against all these issues.”
Remaining physically active as we grow older could help to keep our muscles and immune systems robust, according to two inspiring new studies of older recreational cyclists.
Together, the experiments add to growing evidence that some of our assumptions about ageing may be outdated and we might have more control over the process than we think.
Ageing often seems inexorable and unvarying, and, in chronological terms, it is.
The years mount at the same pace for each of us. But our bodies’ responses to the passage of time can differ. While most people become frail, a few remain spry.
These differences recently prompted a group of British scientists to wonder whether our beliefs about what is normal and inevitable with physical ageing might be limited or incorrect, and in particular, whether we might be ignoring the role of exercise.
Exercise among middle-aged and older adults in the Western world is rare. By most estimates, only about 10 per cent of people past the age of 65 work out regularly.
So, our expectations about what is normal during ageing are based on how
growing older affects sedentary people.
But the British scientists, many of them recreational athletes, suspected that exercise might have an impact on the trajectory of physical ageing and, if so, alter our beliefs about what “normal” ageing means.