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Exercise for Optimal Ageing

By Rosemary Ann Ogilvie

If exercise figures on your list of New Year’s resolutions, move it to number one position, underscore it, asterisk it, diarise it and DO it, because staying active enables you to age optimally.


This was the finding of a study of amateur older cyclists by King’s College London published in The Journal of Physiology. Many of the 125 cyclists (aged 55 to 79) who participated had levels of physiological function that would place them at a much younger age compared to the general population, thereby debunking the common assumption that ageing automatically equates to frailty.


The study recruited 84 male and 41 female cycling enthusiasts to explore how the ageing process affects the human body, and whether specific physiological markers can be used to determine age. Participants were chosen to exclude the effects of a sedentary lifestyle, which can aggravate health problems and cause changes in the body that might appear to be associated with the ageing process. The male contingent had to be able to cycle 100 km in under 6.5 hours, while the females had to do 60 km in 5.5 hours. Smokers, heavy drinkers and those with high blood pressure or other health conditions were excluded.


Physiological profile


Participants underwent two days of laboratory testing at King’s. A physiological profile was established for each person, which included measures of cardiovascular, respiratory, neuromuscular, metabolic, endocrine and cognitive functions, bone strength, and health and wellbeing. Reflexes, muscle strength, oxygen uptake during exercise, and peak explosive cycling power were determined.


The study revealed the effects of ageing were far from obvious. People of different ages could have similar levels of function such as muscle strength, lung power and exercise capacity. While the maximum rate of oxygen consumption showed the closest association with age, even this marker could not identify with any degree of accuracy the age of any given person, which would be the requirement for any useful biomarker of ageing.


Overall, the study concluded that ageing appears to be a highly individual phenomenon. As people are so different, the team believes more studies are needed that follow the same healthy and exercising individuals over time to better understand the effects of ageing the body.


“Inevitably, our bodies will experience some decline with age, but staying physically active can buy you extra years of function compared to sedentary people,” comments Emeritus Professor Norman Lazarus, a member of the King’s team and a cyclist. “Cycling not only keeps you mentally alert, it also requires the vigorous use of many of the body’s key systems, such as muscles, heart and lungs which you need for maintaining health and for reducing the risks associated with numerous diseases.”

Written for the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society (ATMS) by Rosemary Ann Ogilvie from materials released by King’s College London.


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Rosemary Ann Ogilvie