The toll that aging takes on a body extends all the way down to the cellular level. But the damage accrued by cells in older muscles is especially severe, because they do not regenerate easily and they become weaker as their mitochondria, which produce energy, diminish in vigor and number.
A study published this month in Cell Metabolism, however, suggests that certain sorts of workouts may undo some of what the years can do to our mitochondria.
Exercise is good for people, as everyone knows. But scientists have surprisingly little understanding of its cellular impacts and how those might vary by activity and the age of the exerciser.
So researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., recently conducted an experiment on the cells of 72 healthy but sedentary men and women who were 30 or younger or older than 64. After baseline measures were established for their aerobic fitness, their blood-sugar levels and the gene activity and mitochondrial health in their muscle cells, the volunteers were randomly assigned to a particular exercise regimen.
Some of them did vigorous weight training several times a week; some did brief interval training three times a week on stationary bicycles (pedaling hard for four minutes, resting for three and then repeating that sequence three more times); some rode stationary bikes at a moderate pace for 30 minutes a few times a week and lifted weights lightly on other days. A fourth group, the control, did not exercise.
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