Here’s Proof That Exercise Can Basically Stop Your Body From Aging

Photo by Trinette Reed / Stocksy

If you’re like me, you probably assume that slowing down is a natural result of aging. Obviously your 5K run time will be faster at age 28 than it will be at age 68, right? Not exactly.

It turns out that exercise—especially cardio—really can keep you young, according to a new study from the Journal of Applied Psychology. Researchers found that the muscles of active 70-year-olds were nearly indistinguishable from the muscles of active 25-year-olds. In fact, the study’s authors concluded that these active seniors appeared to be biologically 30 years younger than their actual age.

Ball State University researchers set up this study with three groups: The first was made up of 28 older adults, most of whom were well into their 70s and had been physically active for five or more decades. The second group was made up of older people who were healthy but had not exercised at all during adulthood. The third group included active young people in their mid-20s. All of the participants spent time in the university lab, where researchers recorded information about their aerobic capacities and took tissue samples to measure the capillaries and enzymes in each person’s muscles.

Scott Trappe, the director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State and the lead author on the study, told the New York Times that he and his team expected to see hierarchical results, with the younger people possessing the most robust muscles, the lifelong exercisers being slightly weaker, and the non-exercisers weaker still. But that’s not what they found. Rather, the study results showed that the older exercisers and younger exercisers had nearly identical-looking muscles, despite the nearly 50 years between them. The younger folks were a bit stronger aerobically, but the senior exercisers still appeared to be 30 years younger compared to the non-active seniors in the study.

Past research has suggested that some of the physical effects of aging may in fact be avoidable: One recent study suggested that your running times may not slow as quickly as you’d think as you age. But that study was based on the times of competitive athletes; this new study, however, was based on average-but-active seniors. It shows us that staying active aerobically (which means doing cardio like brisk walking, running, swimming, or cycling) really can slow the negative effects of biological aging for all of us, not just professional athletes. Researchers even found that the intensity of that exercise didn’t matter much—rather, it was just about moving somehow, in some way, for decades.

Thus, what we now consider to be normal physical deterioration with aging “may not be normal or inevitable,” Dr. Trappe told the NYT.

All the more reason to sign up for that cycling class you’ve been considering recently: Future you will thank current you.