Chiropractic + Naturopathic Doctor

How to stay young: the many benefits of exercise

By DR. Don Fitz-Ritson, DC   

Features Health Research Wellness exercise fitness healthy aging healthy living

Photo: lordn/Adobe stock

Researchers have shown that a compression of morbidity that improves healthy aging is more valuable than further increases in life expectancy, and that targeting aging offers potentially larger economic gains than eradicating individual diseases. They showed that a slowdown in aging that increases life expectancy by one year is worth US$38 trillion, and by 10 years, US$367 trillion. Ultimately, the more progress that is made in improving how we age, the greater the value of further improvements. “They state that it would reduce the incidents of cancer, dementia, cardiovascular disease and frailty. In total, the U.S. is spending 17 percent of everything we generate on health care – and largely that’s spent in the last year of life.” Currently, a person who turns 65 in the next few years will spend anywhere from $142,000 to $176,000 on average on long-term care during their lifetime, according to a recent report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.(1) For Canada, we divide those numbers by 10.

Physical exercise has been shown to benefit the aging person. It is cheap and anyone can partake. Physical exercise represents a powerful tool, doable with few or no side effects and produces a multitude of benefits. This article will highlight some of the lesser known, but still significant benefits of exercise for everyone, including the aging population. 

Exercise easily stimulates young muscle compared to aging muscle. More genes are expressed in the young muscle compared to the aging muscle.(2)These gene changes are necessary to protect the integrity of the aging muscle.(3) The Mediterranean diet can help the telomeres which protect the genes,(4) and exercise can help rejuvenate muscle stem cells, providing new muscle cells.(5) This means that due to decreased gene expression, the aging muscle has to work harder to achieve the same effects as the young muscle. Aging people therefore have to keep their muscles as healthy as possible, so they respond better to exercise or physical activity.(6) 


Neuromuscular junction
With aging there is loss of motor units which make up the neuromuscular junction. By age 80, these loses start to become functional impairments. Lifelong physical activity has a protective effect on the motor units.(7)

Muscle-bone interaction
Physical activity/exercise can, through biochemical signaling encourage the cross-talk of bone to muscles and this will help to delay osteoporosis and sarcopenia.(8) Muscles can affect bone by releasing myokines when stimulated. These myokines regulate muscle metabolism, bone and more distant tissues such as liver and brain.(9) Exercise/activity can also affect bones by stimulating them to release proteins which affect muscle and other organs in the body. This is mediated via the immune system, and enhances aging musculoskeletal health.(10) Because of the important effects of exercise and muscle on the body, a new word has been coined to cover the interaction. “Exerkine” has emerged as the umbrella term covering any humoral factors secreted into circulation by tissues in response to exercise. Exercise-related adaptations include  muscles, bones, the cardiovascular, nervous, metabolic, locomotor and immune systems.(11) Therefore, exercise will help or prevent the development of many chronic diseases.(12)

Gut-muscle axis
Research shows there is cross-talk between gut microbiota and skeletal muscle health. This gut-muscle axis mediates changes in muscle, depending on the gut health. With aging, gut health decreases and will affect aging skeletal muscle size, composition, and function.(13) The gut microbiota directly affects protein synthesis in muscle, and this indicates why the health of the gut microbiota is necessary.(14) Exercise will now easily assist muscle size and health,(15,16) and consuming more animal protein will add to muscle function, which will positively affect cognitive function.(17,18)  

Muscle-brain axis
Physical activity/exercise affects 82% of the total grey matter volume of the brain.(19) It is logical that there must be a muscle-brain axis. Physical exercise causes muscle to secretes myokines that contribute to the regulation of hippocampal function, enhance BDNF production and contribute to neurogenesis, memory and learning.(20) Some of these exercise induced muscle secreted myokines are transported via the blood to the brain to assist with neurogenesis and cognition, especially in the aging brain.(21) Mitrochondria (ATP), is increased  in muscle by exercise. Mitrochondria (ATP) is central for the communication between muscle and brain and for the release of the myokines which often depends on mitochondria, and possibly direct mitochondrial transfer. These exercise myokines and mitrochondria(ATP), will help protect the brain against neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s  and Parkinson’s.(22) Exercise myokines and mitrochondria(ATP), will also protect the retina and help to delay macular degeneration.(23)

Gut-brain axis
The gut-brain axis is very significant and can modulate the brain for health or pathology depending on the state of both areas. As mentioned above, exercise will help keep the gut healthy. Diet and probiotics will also help the gut function normally.(24) Neurodegeneration of the brain can manifest via the gut-brain axis as it is a bidirectional communication through neuroimmune, neuroendocrine, and direct neural pathways such as the vagus nerve.(25)Restoring the gut microbiota and keeping it healthy can decrease the progression of Parkinson’s disease.(26,27) Healthy gut microbiota regulates the production, transportation, and functioning of neurotransmitters, helping brain and cognitive functions.

Bone-brain axis
Exercise effectively modifies the release and the circulating levels of osteokines, which has  beneficial effects on brain functions which relates to a bone-to-brain communication. It is  hypothesized exercise may support the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.(28) Exercise can help with osteogenesis, lymphopoiesis, which is an important mechanism by which exercise promotes strengthening of bone and immunity, (29) and support aging bone.(30)

Exercise and the brain
Studies have shown that physical exercise promotes the release of molecules, involved in neuronal survival, differentiation, plasticity and neurogenesis in the brain, from several peripheral organs.(31) Exercise also improves the protein structure in synapses to preserve them. This can occur even in the aging person, so it is never too late to begin exercising, or increasing ones physical activity.(32) However, the brain pays a price for maintaining these functions. The brain weights about 2% of body weight, but uses about 20% of the  body’s oxygen so that it can convert glucose via the mitrochondria to produce ATP energy to fire the nerves and maintain brain function. Even at rest, the fuel consumption is the result of the leaky pool of vesicles at synaptic terminals which has to be maintained for quick firing of the neurons. Any decrease of the production of the ATP, will slow the function of the synapses, contributing to inflammation and degeneration in the brain.(33) New data supports microglial activation as a physiological pathway by which physical activity relates to brain heath in humans. More research is needed, but physical activity via microglia synaptic neuron connections, may be a modifiable behavior leveraged to reduce pro-inflammatory microglial states in humans.(34) The brain, specifically the hypothalamus, responds to exercise activity and modulates energy metabolism through stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and catecholamine secretion into the circulation. This has an endocrine effect on muscle.(35) Exercise also affects the blood brain barrier –BBB by diminishing BBB permeability as it reinforces antioxidative capacity, reduces oxidative stress and has anti-inflammatory effects.(36) As an example, Omega-3 fatty acid is essential for neurological development and function, specifically the brain and eyes, and it is derived from dietary sources and is transported via the BBB and blood retina barrier.(37) In summary, there is scientific basis for the clinical application of aerobic physical exercise in the fight against brain disorders.(38)

Exercise, inflammation, diet
Regular exercise will improve immunosurveillance and immunocompetence, which strengthens the Immune System and helps to control inflammation in the body.(39) Regular exercise and the Mediterranean-type diet, alone or in combination, provide key interventions to both prevent and control the rise of non-communicable diseases (mainly cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and Type 2 diabetes) which are the main causes of death worldwide.(40) With aging, good nutrition along with the inclusion of micronutrients and macronutrients interact via the gut microbiota-gut-brain axis to impact brain function in general and cognitive processes in particular.(41)

Exercise benefits
Biological aging can be improved by lifelong exercise by decreasing DNA damage, keeping telomeres healthy and enhancing DNA methylation.(42) Disease risks can be modulated with exercise by epigenetic rewiring of skeletal muscle enhancers, which control muscles healthy activity.(43) We evolved to be active throughout our lives, our bodies need physical activity to age well.(44) Exercise is effective in the primary prevention of 35 chronic diseases.(45) New research shows that exercise and diet can reverse epigenetic aging.(46) The body thrives on movement/activity/exercise – this is health. Put more movement/activity/exercise in your day.


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DR. DON FITZ- RITSON is a chiropractor and a rehab specialist. He was an Assistant Professor at CMCC. He published 17 papers and 3 chapters on chiropractic.He co-invented a laser and it received 7 Health Canada Approvals. He is focused on helping the aging population live better lives.

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