Exercise, Aging & Inflammation

Posted on by

Inflamm-aging (aka inflammaging or inflamm-ageing) is a chronic low-grade inflammation developing with advanced age, contributing to biological aging and worsening the course of Alzheimer’s disease, atherosclerosis, type II diabetes and chronic heart diseases. Earlier studies have indicated that exercise is useful in resisting such inflammation, and a new study of lifelong active athletes reinforces those studies. Note that inflammation is a normal body process, dealing with invading microbes as well as physical stress (including exercise). But when microbes are have been dealt with, or when exercise/stress concludes, inflammation should decrease to a normal base level. The chronic inflammation associated with aging remains above that normal base level.

At the beginning of the present study, two things were already known: 1) higher levels of inflammatory factors in people are associated with greater loss of muscle mass, and 2) physically fit people tend to have lower levels of inflammation in their bodies than inactive people. So the question was: do older, active people also have more and healthier muscle mass than other less active older people? This first study focused on men — another study on women is to be published soon.

This study enrolled 21 elderly athletic men, 10 healthy but sedentary elderly men, and 10 runners and cyclists in their 20s, none of whom had been performing weight training. The initial measurements taken focused on blood (for measuring inflammation levels) and thighs: their size at outset of the study, and the quality of their front (quadriceps) muscle as determined by biopsies. Immediately, the following was evident:

Group Thigh Size
Young Men Largest
Elderly Athletes Middle
Elderly Inactive Smallest

The experimental activity consisted of lower-body weight lifting, which would stress the thighs of all of the participants. After the weight-lifting, blood samples and biopsies were again drawn and examined for signs of both flaring of inflammation, together with signs of counter-inflammation activity, as shown here:

Group Inflammation Level Anti-Inflammation Activity

Young Men Smallest Greatest
Elderly Athletes Middle Middle
Elderly Inactive Largest Smallest

While being a lifelong athlete is obviously protective of one’s muscles, starting at middle age to go to the gym, or run, or cycle can gradually build up missing mass. And those aches and pains at first are the signs of inflammation, and their decline are the signs of the decline of inflammation.

Here are links to three media articles on the work:
25 Again? How Exercise May Fight Aging
Lifelong Exercise Prevents “Inflammaging”

And here is a link to the research publication:
Effects of aging and lifelong aerobic exercise on basal and exercise-induced inflammation

All links have been added to Aging and Health > Physical Exercise