Seniors who exercise have immune systems of much younger people, study shows

Apparently, working out is really good for you at all ages. OK, that’s not exactly breaking news but did you know that exercise can legitimately keep you physically younger?

In addition to recent studies that prove activities such as strength training and lifting weights can help older people live longer, data from a study published this month emphasizes how exercise can function as the proverbial fountain of youth by protecting muscles, cholesterol and the immune system.

senior exercise photo
Getty Images | Matt Cardy

Researchers at Britain’s University of Birmingham and King’s College in London conducted a study where a group of older people who had exercised all their lives was compared to groups of healthy adults of differing ages who did not regularly exercise. The goal was to examine whether exercising could slow down the aging process.

The conclusion? Working out and staying active “keeps the body young and healthy,” according to the researchers.

The study monitored 125 amateur cyclists ranging in age from 55 to 79. The people chosen had to be competent enough on a bike to meet certain requirements for speed and distance, proving they rode regularly. It compared their lab tests with those of 75 healthy people from ages 57 to 80, as well as a group of healthy adults aged 20 to 36—all the people in these latter groups did not regularly exercise.

senior cyclist photo
Flickr | david_hudson

After a series of tests and comparisons, the study showed that “loss of muscle mass and strength did not occur in those who exercise regularly” and moreover that these cyclists didn’t increase their body fat or cholesterol levels with age.

The most shocking finding of the study? The benefits of regularly exercising surpass mere muscle improvement. Cyclists who regularly exercised possessed immune systems that also didn’t seem to age! Normally, the organ called the thymus, which makes immune cells called T cells, starts to shrink after the age of 20. However, in this study, “the cyclists’ thymuses were making as many T cells as those of a young person.”

elderly Exercise photo
Getty Images | Justin Sullivan

The key takeaway from this research is that no longer does aging have to automatically mean getting frailer.

“Our research means we now have strong evidence that encouraging people to commit to regular exercise throughout their lives is a viable solution to the problem that we are living longer but not healthier,” said Professor Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham, according to ScienceDaily.

Staying active prevents the body from deteriorating. The best advice for those looking to remain youthful? Find an exercise you enjoy and make it a habit. Your older self will likely thank you.

What are some of your favorite exercises to stay fit and feel good? Are there any tricks you do to stay motivated to workout on days you really don’t want to?