Cycling into old age can prevent decline of the immune system and keep an 80-year-old's body fat as low as that of a teenager, a study has found. But scientists from the University of Birmingham, in the U.K., and King's College London wanted to see how much healthier people who exercised their entire lives really are. Not only that, but people who regularly hit the gym had the immune systems of much younger adults.
Scientists did tests on 125 novice cyclists aged 55 to 79 and contrasted them and sound grown-ups from a wide age aggregate who did not exercise regularly.
Keeping physically active throughout adulthood could help slow down the aging process according to new research. This included 100 kilometers (62.1 miles) in under 6.5 hours for men and 60 km (37.3 miles) in under 5.5 hours for women. The cyclists also did not increase their body fat or cholesterol levels with age and the men's testosterone levels also remained high, suggesting that they may have avoided most of the male menopause.
Norman Lazarus, Emeritus Professor at King's College London and also a master cyclist and Dr. Ross Pollock, who undertook the muscle study, said, "Find an exercise that you enjoy in whatever environment that suits you and make a habit of physical activity".
Even more surprisingly, the researchers also found that exercise appeared to have an anti-aging effect on the immune systems of the cyclists, as well as their muscles.
Professor Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham and a co-author of the study, said "the immune system declines by about 2-3 percent a year from our 20s, which is why older people are more susceptible to infections, conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and, potentially, cancer".
An organ called the thymus, which makes immune cells called T-cells normally starts to shrink from the age of 20.
"However, importantly, our findings debunk the assumption that ageing automatically makes us more frail".
The team did two experiments taking muscle samples from their volunteers and also analyzing their immune systems at a very detailed level. "Remove the activity and their health would likely deteriorate", Harridge said in a statement.
We already know that regular exercise reduces risk of diseases associated with aging, like cardiovascular problems. "Our future studies in this cohort will aim to test immune function, notably the response to vaccination, as a clinical proof of the beneficial impact of physical activity on adaptive immune function in old age", they conclude.
The researchers are planning to continue study the cyclists.