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Aging and exercise

April 1, 2019

My Facebook timeline is full of ads for all sorts of nostrums promising to stave off age-related muscle loss, age-related joint problems, age-related whatever. The one thing those ads might do is relieve some old fools of their money. The sad truth is we all get old and our bodies go haywire. Medicine can alleviate or fix some things. But there isn’t now any general nostrum that remedies the general decline of our bodies.

Except for one: exercise.

And the good news is that it is alright to start late. A study from the National Cancer Institute looking at a large number of people for fifteen years found that those who ramped up their exercise in later years enjoyed virtually as much decline in all-cause mortality as those who had been lifelong exercisers. (Cite.) The bad news is that you cannot bank the results. When you stop exercising, the benefits from it quickly dissipate.

That study has all the drawbacks and weakness of other retrospective studies. Unlike mice, we cannot divide a group of people randomly in two and force one to exercise and the other to not. But. We do have exercise studies from mice. We have scads of retrospective studies on people. And the lessons they suggest are quite consistent. If the benefits of exercise could be put into a pill, the drug company that had it would hawk it as the first true anti-aging remedy with almost miraculous benefit.

Eventually, something gets us all. The messiness of biology and large role of luck rule out any iron rule. That said, exercise is the one generic remedy that gives most people the largest chance at vitality in their later years.

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