Exercise is touted as a cure for many of life’s ills. Now a new study suggests that regular exercise helps keep our body clocks ticking properly, and that in turn could lead to a healthier old age.
Researchers at the University of Glasgow say their study shows that exercise may help maintain the body’s natural rhythms that in turn keep mammals healthy.
“Our study demonstrates that voluntary exercise has an impact on circadian rhythms and this has implications for the health of older people living with environmentally-induced circadian disruption. It is also indicates another health benefit to regular exercise,” Professor Stephany Biello of the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology is quoted as saying.
All mammals have a “clock,” or suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), located in the brain’s hypothalamus. It helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythms, a roughly 24 hour cycle in the physical processes of living beings, by releasing proteins and hormones.
However, the older an organism gets, the less synchronized that clock becomes. In turn this results in poorer sleep, a compromised immune system and a general level of mental decline.
Researchers wanted to investigate how age affects how the body maintains this internal clock by taking mice of different ages and advancing their light and dark cycle by eight hours to prompt a kind of jet lag effect. Researchers then set out to observe how long it took for the mices’ body clocks to synchronize again. Unsurprisingly, young mice were able to adapt quickly to the new schedule, while older mice struggled.
However, something interesting happened when researchers allowed older mice to exercise on a running wheel.
The body clock region of their brains became more active and synchronized more quickly than those in older mice who didn’t exercise.
“Ageing can impact the daily rhythms leading to impaired sleep and activity cycles. Synchronization is key to a healthy immune function, metabolism and mood. Evidence suggests animals more strongly synchronized live healthier and longer lives,” Professor Biello also said.
Indeed, other separate research has shown that disrupting the body clock could play a part in developing a variety of conditions, including osteoarthritis. Researchers from the University of Manchester found that cartilage cells have a kind of clock that controls tissue function.
Researchers found that a disruption in the on-and-off cycle could explain why older people are more prone to developing such disorders and why, in particular, osteoarthritis sufferers find the symptoms of the disease are worse at certain times of the day.
Furthermore, the research showed it might be possible to repair the clock, at least to a certain extent, by taking steps to strengthen and support the body through things like exercise and regular healthy meals.
Other research has suggested a link between broken circadian rhythms and depression, though that study is more investigative and setting the groundwork for future research rather than of practical use.
What all this adds up to is a strong indicator that looking after the body’s rhythms by maintaining a good diet, exercise and sleep regime, all of which carry mutual benefits, may facilitate better health into old age, helping us to live better and potentially for longer.
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