Physical Activity in Later Life Helps Guard Against Degenerative Disease and Promotes Longevity and Healthy Life Expectancy
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (December 2021)
Lifestyle Medicine Update (Dec 1, 2021)
In the December 2021 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of evolutionary biologists and biomedical researchers outline the evolutionary and scientific evidence showing that humans, who evolved to live many decades after they stopped reproducing, remained physically active in their later years. They contend that remaining physically active later in life significantly helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and even some cancers. The researchers say that physical activity later in life shifts energy away from processes that can compromise health and toward mechanisms in the body that extend it.
They conclude that humans evolved to remain physically active as they age — and in doing so to allocate energy toward repair and maintenance processes that slow the body’s gradual deterioration. More specifically, physical activity directs energy allocation to repair tears in muscle fibers, repair cartilage damage, and heal microfractures. It also causes the release of exercise-related antioxidants and some natural anti-inflammatory agents and enhances blood flow. All of this adds up to a lower risk of diabetes, obesity, some types of cancer, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression.
So, how much activity do we need? Well, evidence shows that contemporary hunter-gatherers, who lived about 40,000 years ago, averaged about 135 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day. Those who survived childhood tended to live seven decades, approximately 20 years past the age at which humans generally stop having children. Fossil evidence indicates that these extended lifespans were common by 40,000 years ago, contrary to the belief that human lifespans until recently were short. What is jarring is the fact that these hunter-gathers burned six to ten times more energy each day than present-day average North American adults. According to the lead author of the paper Dr. Daniel Lieberman, “the key take-home point is that because we evolved to be active throughout our lives, our bodies need physical activity to age well. In the past, daily physical activity was necessary in order to survive, but today we have to choose to exercise, that is to do voluntary physical activity for the sake of health and fitness.” Dr. Lieberman goes on to explain that physical activity levels have been decreasing worldwide as machines and technology replace human labor. A recent study from Dr. Lieberman’s lab showed that Americans are engaging in less physical activity than they did 200 years ago.
So, what’s the solution? In many previous Lifestyle Medicine Updates, I have shared with you the latest research showing the importance of targeted dietary and supplementation strategies that slow aging, enhance longevity, decrease the risk of degenerative diseases, and improve the management of various common health conditions. But an underlying requirement of health promotion, longevity, and decreased risk of many degenerative diseases involves daily physical activity. Exercise is a unique and essential aspect of keeping your body and brain health that is required in addition to a prudent diet and possibly a personalized supplementation program. I personally endorse the combination of resistance training and endurance activity. Resistance training helps to preserve your muscle strength, balance, bone density, and blood flow to some degree, and endurance activity is of course good for your heart, your brain, your lungs, oxygen delivery to your tissues, and overall blood circulation. There is simply no substitute for exercise when it comes to delivering these specific outcomes. Playing some sports can help provide endurance training benefits, which is a good solution for people who don’t like formal aerobic exercise equipment, aerobic classes or high-intensity dance classes, jogging, cycling, cross-country skiing, power walking, or snow showing. Everyone is different in terms of what activities they are drawn to or can tolerate. The important thing is to find something you can stick with and do it regularly, aiming for at least 60 minutes of moderate exercise intensity per day.
I have included the reference for this study in the text below.
1. Daniel E. Lieberman, Timothy M. Kistner, Daniel Richard, I-Min Lee, Aaron L. Baggish. The active grandparent hypothesis: Physical activity and the evolution of extended human healthspans and lifespans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021; 118 (50) https://www.pnas.org/content/118/50/e2107621118
2. Taking it easy as you get older? Wrong. Science Daily November 22, 2021. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/11/211122172720.htm
Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great,
Dr. James Meschino
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. James Meschino, DC, MS, ROHP, is an educator, author, and researcher having lectured to thousands of healthcare professionals across North America. He holds a Master’s Degree in Science with specialties in human nutrition and biology and is recognized as an expert in the field of nutrition, anti-aging, fitness, and wellness as well as the author of numerous books.