As we age, our nervous systems lose motor neurons. The loss of these neurons leads to “a loss of motor units, reduced muscle mass, less strength, speed, and power. That process speeds up substantially past age 60.” So, what can you do to keep your motor neurons? According to Geoff Power from the University of Guelph, you just have to exercise regularly (even in your later years).
Professor Power, a fitting name for his line of research, began studying seniors in their 80s. Specifically, he compared a group who were world-class track and field athletes against a group who were not athletes but did live independently. Either way, the results of his study are incredible.
Power’s study found that the senior athletes had:
- 25% stronger legs
- 14% more total muscle mass
- 33% more motor units (nerve and muscle fibers) in their legs
Not all of the elite runners were in peak physical health in their youth, but their results were all the same: these elite 80 year old athletes are stronger, faster, and physically younger than their inactive peers. So even if you haven’t hit the gym in 20 years, it’s never too late to stop muscle loss in its tracks.
Is It Also True That Exercise Keeps Your Brain Young?
When we talk about a “young brain,” we’re really talking about cognitive abilities (thinking skills). As we age, our brain’s cognitive abilities begin to decline. Like the rest of our muscles, the brain weakens as we age. However, exercise may have a hand in slowing down our brain’s decline.
According to a study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, “exercise in older people is associated with a slower rate of decline in thinking skills that occurs with aging.” In fact, active seniors may have as much as 10 more years of cognitive abilities than inactive seniors. But going out for a walk, or taking yoga, isn’t enough.
The trick is engaging in moderate to intense exercise, according to the study’s results. Seniors regularly engaged in activities like jogging, aerobics, or calisthenics saw the best outcomes in their ongoing cognitive abilities.
So, Keeping Your Body and Mind Young All Comes Down to Moderate to Intense Exercise
While you should always start a new workout regimen by consulting your doctor, beginning an exercise routine sooner rather than later is in your best interest. Whether this means finding a local jogging trail, getting a trainer, or joining an aerobics class, make sure your heart is really pumping and your muscles are working. You’ll thank yourself later.