Vigorous Exercise Can Really Roll Back the Years

A much younger body, too.

By + More
Exercise is good for both the brain and the body.
Exercise is good for both the brain and the body.

Researchers focused on fighting the ravages of time can tell you how to keep your body young longer as well: Eat less and move more. "Even elite athletes who keep up their regular training routine will lose about 1 percent of muscle mass per year," says physician Steven Masley, author of Ten Years Younger, a book on how diet and exercise battle aging. Since body fat increases at the same rate, he notes, "basically, you turn from free range to prime cut."

A sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits accelerate that shift, putting the average person "10 years farther along the graph" than he or she should be, as Masley puts it. Sedentary bodies produce a slow drip of cytokines—proteins that circulate in the bloodstream and cause inflammation, among other things, says Henry Lodge, an assistant professor at Columbia University Medical Center and coauthor of Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You're 80 and Beyond. While inflammation is important to healing, too much is linked to arthritis, heart disease, and a growing number of other diseases. Vigorous exercise activates cytokines that promote cell repair and growth.

"When you exercise, you change the chemical makeup of your blood for eight to 12 hours," says Lodge. "So for a large majority of that day, you're regenerating cells and building a better body and brain." Just last week, British scientists reported that people who exercised about 200 minutes per week had telomeres—repeated sequences at the ends of chromosomes that shorten with age—as long as those of sedentary people up to 10 years younger.

The recommended dose: 45 minutes to an hour of aerobics most days and two or three weekly sessions of strength training. A low-to- moderate-fat diet high in fruits and veggies and omega-3 fatty acids is in order, too. "If people followed this plan, they would markedly decrease their chance of premature or accelerated aging," says Masley, "and stay vital until the end."