Think for a minute about several people you know in their late 60s or 70s, who have been faithful exercisers, perhaps runners, and think how their skin looks, compared with other people who have been sedentary. Do the exercisers have better skin and fewer wrinkles than the sedentary people?
Research presented April 2014 at the annual meeting of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine suggests that the exercisers probably have younger looking skin.
Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, professor of exercise science at McMaster University (Canada), has been carrying out research on the influence of exercise on skin for many years. His early research was performed on mice, but more recently he turned to human subjects.
The mouse research, published in 2011 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), involved a strain of mice that possess a genetic mutation that makes them age rapidly. He divided the mice into two groups. One half of the mice were kept in cages without exercise wheels, and the other half—the active ones— ran on wheels three times per week for 45 minutes, at a brisk pace (the equivalent of a human running a 10K distance in 50 minutes).
By 8 months, the mice that did not run were frail and decrepit, had wasted muscles, and patchy graying fur. By one year, all of the mice were dead, except for the ones that exercised. None of those mice died, and at 8 months they all had good muscles, healthy internal organs, and full fur, without graying.
Dr. Tarnooplsky and his team then moved to humans, with a study that involved 29 male and female volunteers aged 20 to 84. The researchers biopsied skin from the buttock of each (an area which, in Canadians, did not have much lifetime sun exposure), and microscopically compared the skin samples.
They found a remarkable difference between the skin of the older people who exercised regularly (moderate or vigorous, at least three times per week) and the older sedentary people (less than one hour per week of exercise). The exercisers had a markedly thinner outer layer of skin (the stratum corneum), and a thicker deeper layer.
This deeper layer of skin, the dermis, normally thins as we age, loses collagen and elasticity, and sags, forming wrinkles. But, amazingly, the people over 65 who were regular exercisers had dermal layers similar in thickness and composition to people in their 20s and 30s.
The team then performed another study. They wanted to see if people over age 65 who were sedentary, and then began a serious exercise program, could change the characteristics of their skin.
The doctors found a group of sedentary volunteers over age 65 and started half of them on a moderate endurance exercise program where they jogged or biked at a moderately strenuous pace for 30 minutes, twice a week. After three months, they biopsied the skin of everyone—the exercisers and the ones who continued being sedentary.
They found the ones who exercised had markedly changed the composition of their skin, returning the microscopic appearance to someone much younger. This experiment shows that even if you haven’t been an exerciser, it’s never too late to start.
The physiologic mechanism for this apparent age reversal of the skin is not yet certain, but it seems to be related to the release of myokines, which are small protein particles released by muscles when they are exercised. These particles travel throughout the body, and may modify an internal part of our cells called mitochondria, which are basically the little power plants inside each of our cells.
As we age, these mitochondria develop defects and stop functioning well, and many just disappear. Exercising seems to keep these little intra-cellular power plants working well.
The bottom line is this: regular exercise, at least three times a week, is likely to not only help your heart, blood vessels and brain (as we talk about here regularly), but also make you look younger. Another good reason to get up, get out, and get moving!
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