Effects Of Exercise On Aging


Aging is defined as the process in which the “human body begins to be more vulnerable to daily wear and tear. There is a general decline in physical and possibly mental functions (Farlex, 2018, para 1).” Thus, every human being gets to experience aging, unless of course he or she is predisposed to some sort of birth defect that can take his or her life prior to the beginning of aging. Aging, unfortunately, is unavoidable despite all the technological and molecular advances that we as a society have made over the past one hundred years.

The aging process is a complex interaction of genetics, chemistry, physiology, and behavior. As we now know, we can’t reverse the aging process. However, it is important to understand that we as a society can positively influence aging in many different aspects and thereby age more comfortably. One of the biggest aspects that can influence aging is exercise. Exercise is defined as the “physical action performed to make or keep your body healthy (Cambridge University Press, 2018, para 1).” Furthermore, as we investigate aging, we start to understand that there are many theories that can and do influence aging on day to day basis. These theories are as followed: programmed theory, damage or error theory, disengagement theory, activity theory, neuroendocrine theory, free radical theory, membrane theory of aging, mitochondrial decline theory, and cross-linking theory.

Out of all these theories, the one that is most accepted is programmed theory. This theory states that life expectancy is pre-determined and timed, which thereby the cells have a set number of divisions. Once that number is reached the cell can no longer divide and multiply, and thereby the life process can no longer be achieved (Physiopedia, 2018). In addition to programmed theory, there are also three sub-theories which if used properly can work congruently with exercise and thereby promoting a healthy lifestyle.

The first sub theory is programmed longevity. This theory states that there will be a sequential switching on and off certain genes, with senescence being defined as the time associated age deficits are created. The second sub theory is the endocrine theory and it states that the biological clocks act through hormones to control the pace of aging. Lastly, the immunological theory states that the immune system will decline over time which makes people more vulnerable to infections and diseases and can ultimately cause death. (Jin, 2010)

Programmed Longevity and Exercise

Programmed longevity states that we as humans age from the time that we hit our maturation stage regarding the full development of our body and mind. Once this point is achieved we then start to decline in the way that our body functions on day to day basis, this is done through the shortening of telomeres. Furthermore, we all know that our heart is import for our survival and that we must do whatever is possible to keep the heart intact and in working condition. One of the best ways to prolong the shortening of telomeres is through exercise.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (2008) long and short term, physical exercise up-regulates cardiac telomeres through stabilization of proteins and thereby induces anti senescent and proactive effects (Werner, Hanhoun, Kazakov, Semenov, Poss, Bauersachs, & Thum, 2008). According to the American Heart Association (2009), physical exercise is a powerful tool that can upregulate telomere stabilization and proteins in the circulation of cells through the body. In addition, exercise can also upregulate telomere stabilization within vasculature by protecting against endothelial apoptosis. Moreover, both studies were performed on mice in a controlled environment which means all the variables were accounted for.

However, even though these studies were performed on mice we should not take away from the research that was done. Research clearly shows that regular bouts of exercise, even in mice, can slow down the degradation of telomeres. Therefore, we as humans should include regular bouts of exercise on day to day basis.

Endocrine Theory and Exercise

The endocrine system is a very important system within the body. It is a system that regulates much of the bodily functions. It is a system that is composed of multiple organs, hormones, and different receptors. Furthermore, the endocrine system can regulate critical bodily functions like reproduction, development, metabolism, stress responses, blood pressure, awareness, and digestion (Cai, Mcneilly, Luttrell, & Martin, 2012).  As we can see, the endocrine system plays a big role in the physiology of the body and how we as humans’ functions on a day to basis. We now know that aging is irreversible and that it is a natural process that involves a slow decline in many of the physiological functions. However, thanks to exercise we can gradually slow down the onset of these physiological adaptations that occur over time and thereby prolong the onset of aging.

According to Harvard Medical School (2014), in 1966 at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, five healthy men volunteered for three weeks of rest. Within three weeks those five healthy males stayed in bed while researchers recorded the results. At the end of the bed rest, researchers found horrible changes that included symptoms of an individual twice their age. These symptoms included faster-resting heart rates, higher systolic blood pressures, a drop in the heart’s maximum pumping capacity, a rise in body fat, and a fall in muscle strength (Harvard Medical School, 2014).  Fortunately, the researches created an 8-week exercise program that at the end reversed all the symptoms that the three-week bed rest brought upon them.

In addition to the original study, the men came back at the age of fifty to be revaluated. When the men were revaluated, their average body weight doubled from 14% to 28% and in addition to that, their vital organs also slowed down below average. Once the researches collected this data, they went ahead and constructed a 6-month program that consisted of biking, running, and jogging.

After the program was complete, the men-only lost ten pounds. However, their resting heart rates, blood pressures, and their heart’s maximum pumping abilities were back to their baseline from the time they were young (Harvard Medical School, 2014). This study shows us that over time your body will slow down. It will slow down even faster if no consistent exercise is present to challenge the body and its ability to undue stress. However, as the results suggest even at the older age we can still improve many of our bodily functions with small amounts of exercise.

Immunological Theory and Exercise

As we know, the older we get the more impaired our immune system becomes which thereby puts us into more venerable positions in regard to increased risk of infections and diseases. Furthermore, we can combat immune system degradation by utilizing more exercise regiments on day to day basis. According to Venjatraman and Fernandes (1997), an appropriate regular regiment of endurance exercise may help elderly people live a higher quality life by preserving immune system functions. Having the ability to preserve immune system functions is critical for the older population. It is critical because the older population can now enjoy his or her life without putting too much emphasis on medication that will supposedly support the elderlies’ immune system.

Studies have suggested that modern exercise can reverse the adverse effects of aging upon the immune system by increasing the regularity production of endocrine hormones This may contribute to the reduction of autoreactive cells which contributes to programmed cell death (Venjatraman, & Fernandes, 1997). In a study of exercise, immunity, and aging are done by Venjatraman and Fernandes, elderly subjects demonstrated a much higher proliferative response to “phytohemagglutinins (PHA) and to pokeweed mitogen (PWM), and higher rates of interleukin-2 (IL-2), interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) and interleukin-4 (IL-4) production.

Furthermore, from this study, we can determine that even moderate training can increase the resistance to viral infections as well as cancer cells (Venjatraman, & Fernandes, 1997, page 1, para 2).” Exercise is important even if it is just an acute bout. According to Shinkai, Konishi, and Shephard (1997), even a small bout of exercise can benefit an elderly individual. In a study of aging, exercise, training, and the immune system; it has shown that even a single bout of exercise can increase the amounts of Natural Killer cells that flow through the bloodstream. These Natural Killer cells are important especially in the older population because even a small cut on a finger can cause big damage to the immune system. Thereby it is critical that a human body has a sufficient amount Natural Killer cells flowing through the body


There have been many studies done to determine what the exact cause of aging is. However, now we only have theories to rely on, and as we know theories are only ideas used to account for certain situations in order to justify a course of action. Moreover, something that we do know is that aging can be prolonged or slowed down through exercise. By now we should know that exercise is a critical component for our physical and mental state and that everyone should perform some sort of physical and mental exercise to challenge the body and mind.


Cai, H., Mcneilly, A. S., Luttrell, L. M., & Martin, B. (2012, December 9). Editorial endocrine function in aging. International Journal of Endocrinology. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2012/872478 Cambridge University Press. (2018). Exercise. In Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/exercise

Farlex. (2018). Aging. In The Free Dictionary. Retrieved from https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/aging

Harvard Medical School. (2014, March). Exercise and aging: Can you walk away from Father Time. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercise-and-aging-can-you-walk-away-from-father-time

Jin, K. (2010, October). Modern biological theories of aging. Aging and Disease1(2), 72-74. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995895/pdf/ad-1-2-72.pdf

Physiopedia. (2018). Theories of aging. In Physiopedia. Retrieved June 12, 2018, from https://www.physio-pedia.com/Theories_of_Aging

Shinkai, S., Konishi, M., & Shephard, R. J. (1997, April). Aging, exercise, training, and the immune system. Exercise Immunology Review3, 68-95. Retrieved from National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Venjatraman, J. T., & Fernandes, G. (1997, April). Exercise, immunity and aging. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Venjatraman%20JT%5BAuthor%5D&cauthor=true&cauthor_uid=9177585

Werner, C., Hanhoun, M., Kazakov, A., Semenov, A., Poss, J., Bauersachs, J., & Thum, T.

(2008, August). Effects of physical exercise on myocardial telomere-regulating proteins, survival pathways, and apoptosis. National Center for Biotechnology Information. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2008.04.034 Werner, C., Furster, T., Widmann, T., Poss, J., Roggia, C., Hanhoun, M., Scharhag, J., Buchner,

N., Meyer, T., Kindermann, W., Haendeler, J., Bohm, M., & Laufs, U. (2009, December 15). Physical exercise prevents cellular senescence in circulating leukocytes and in the vessel wall. American Heart Association120(4). doi:https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.861005

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