Researchers conducted an experiment and divided men and women into two groups: Half were below 30 years old, the other half over 64 years old. (The study is titled “Enhanced Protein Translation Underlies Improved Metabolic and Physical Adaptations to Different Exercise Training Modes in Young and Old Humans,” proving yet again that research paper titling is where fun goes to die.)
People chosen for this study were healthy but basically sedentary i.e. they spent too much sitting on a desk. The participants were given different exercise regimens which they had to follow for 12 weeks.
One group did not exercise. Another group alternated riding stationary bikes for 30 minutes at a moderate pace on some days, lifting light weights on others. The third group lifted heavy, and the fourth group did strenuous interval training on a stationary bike: They pedaled hard for four minutes, rested for three minutes, then repeated the cycle for a total of four intervals.
What happened? The control group, as they did not exercise, did not improve. Everyone else made improvements in overall fitness.
Good things happen to our body when we exercise. The participants who lifted weights showed an increase in strength and muscle mass. (People who lifted heavy showed a greater increase than those who lifted light.) The participants who rode stationary bikes showed an improvement in cardiovascular fitness. (Those who did intervals showed a much greater increase in endurance, for good reason.)
But the thing that we don’t know here is that s we age, our muscle cells deteriorate. We also lose mitochondria, which is where our energy comes from and whatever mitochondria remains in our body gets weaker.
But here’s the good news:In non-science terms, the group who did interval training experienced changes that increased both the amount and the health of their mitochondria–especially the people in the older age group.
Or, as the lead researcher said, “It seems as if the decline in the cellular health of muscles associated with aging was ‘corrected’ with exercise, especially if it was intense. In fact, older people’s cells responded more robustly to intense exercise than the cells of the young.”
So that means just one thing:
- No matter what your age, any form of exercise is good for you.
- If you want to get stronger and improve muscle tone, lift weights.
- If you want to turn back the clock, at least at a cellular level, do interval training two or three times a week.
That means, of course, that you can’t just spin lightly on an exercise bike. You can’t just breeze along on the elliptical. You can’t just knock out twelve reps of dumbbell bicep curls with a five-pound weight while you check your email with your free hand.