IN LATER LIFE, INCREASED SUSCEPTIBILITY TO INFECTION AND DEMENTIA are common themes. During the influenza season, there are annual alerts from the CDC that older individuals may develop serious complications of the illness. Partly this is because persons aged 65 years and older are more likely to have acquired medical conditions that place them at risk.
In addition, advancing age leads to immunosenescence, in which the production of infection fighting immune cells by an atrophying thymus gland is diminished. To make matters worse, levels of pro-inflammatory substances (cytokines) circulating in blood are increased with aging, which has been referred to as “inflamm-aging”. ventura
Furthermore, this age-related increase in pro-inflammatory cytokines “is associated with dementia, Parkinson’s disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes type 2, sarcopenia, and a high risk of morbidity and mortality.” Pharmaceutical company ads for medications that can slow progression of dementia in Alzheimer’s Disease feature older individuals because of its relationship with aging.
If you’re looking for a push off the couch, to start regularly exercising to become physically fit, a recently published scientific study has provided a hopeful reason to begin doing this before middle age. Because the involution of the thymus “accelerates rapidly after 40 years of age”, lord lets set this age at 40.
The research study, “Major features of immunosenescence, including reduced thymic output, are ameliorated by high levels of physical activity in adulthood” was conducted by Niharika A. Duggal and colleagues at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom and King’s College in London UK, and published March 8, 2018 in the journal Aging Cell.
The UK scientists showed that compared with healthy but more sedentary, non-exercising older adults (age 55-79), long-time, fit, active cyclists of the same age showed less of a decline in immune cell output by the thymus gland. The frequency of some immune cells produced by the thymus (Recent Thymic Emigrants) in older active cyclists was that same as that seen in much younger, non-exercising adults!
Also, there was evidence that the older cyclists’ cytokine environment was protective of the thymus gland, showing reduced ‘inflammaging’. They showed higher circulating levels of a thymus-protective cytokine (IL-7) and lower levels of a thymus-atrophying cytokine (IL-6) than BOTH younger and older inactive persons.
Participants included 125 master-cyclist and 75 age-matched sedentary-older (55-79 years) adults, and 55 younger adults (aged 20-36 years) who were not involved in exercise. To be included in this study as “master cyclists”, the 84 male participants were required to have the ability to cycle 60km in under 6.5 hours, and the 41 female participants to cycle the same distance in 5.5 hours, at least twice in the 3 weeks prior to testing. This group of cyclist participants had been previously studied in depth and were known to have “maintained their cycling activity for much of their adult lives”. Pollock 2105) Blood was drown from these subjects from which immune cells were obtained
If being protected from common serious infections in middle- and old-age, as well as diseases that are thought to be related to the inflammation of aging like dementia, seems important, now is the time to start developing that protection. If you don’t want to see yourself represented in pharma advertisements directed at the high-risk aged, commit to exercise you are likely to enjoy for the coming decades.
Choose one or more endurance activities and mix-up your routines with strength training. Inside and outside of the gym, there’s more to be gained from reasonable levels of regular intense exercise than can be measured on a scale or seen in a mirror.
RUN & MOVE HAPPY!
BRIDGE TO PHYSICAL SELF
Running, walking, and fitness activities enable us to experience our physical selves in a world mostly accessed through use of fingers on a mobile device.
EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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