Can Exercise Make You Look Younger?

Research suggests regular exercise can make skin look significantly younger

Flickr/Dr. Abdullah Naser

If you ask us, regular vigorous exercise is the real life fountain of youth. It’s the key to health and longevity, providing seemingly endless physical, chemical and emotional benefits. Workouts do wonders and scientists are constantly discovering new benefits, the latest of which even surprised us.

The latest discovery comes out of McMaster University in Ontario. Researchers there say regular exercise keeps skin looking youthful and may even reverse skin aging in those who wait until late in life to begin exercising. So, even if you’re 70, you can start an exercise regimen and make your skin look, feel and act significantly younger.

Tests began on mice that were bred to age prematurely. When mice had access to running wheels, every aspect of their health and appearance was better than the group of mice that did not exercise. Particularly interesting, the mice that did not exercise experienced graying fur and balding, but for those that ran on the wheel, their fur didn’t turn gray.

The researchers decided to study exercise’s effect on human skin. To avoid the variable of sun exposure, they took samples from the subject’s rear ends. In total almost 30 people participated in the study, half active (getting at least three hours of exercise per week) and half inactive (exercising for less than an hour a week). The New York Times’ Well Blog wrote about the findings.

They found that after age 40, the men and women who exercised frequently had markedly thinner, healthier stratum corneums and thicker dermis layers in their skin. Their skin was much closer in composition to that of the 20- and 30-year-olds than to that of others of their age, even if they were past age 65.

The results were promising, but to isolate exercise as the sole cause of youthful skin the researchers had to do another study. In the second case, they recruited inactive people, 65 years and up. They collected a skin sample then put them on an aerobic exercise regimen. After three months, they took another sample and compared the two.

But now the samples looked quite different, with outer and inner layers that looked very similar to those of 20- to 40-year-olds. “I don’t want to over-hype the results, but, really, it was pretty remarkable to see,” said Dr. Tarnopolsky, himself a middle-aged exerciser. Under a microscope, the volunteers’ skin “looked like that of a much younger person, and all that they had done differently was exercise.”

Researchers cannot definitively say what element makes skin younger after regular exercise, but one theory is that muscular effort produces a substance called IL-15. This substance is said to change cells outside of the muscular system, and the substance was found in elevated levels in regular exercisers.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence in this research to suggest that exercise can reverse damage from the sun. So, it won’t likely get rid of the wrinkles on your face, but any benefit of exercise is a welcome addition to the list.


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