Older people who exercise have younger cells than healthy young people who don’t exercise.
Older people who exercise heal faster than healthy young people who don’t.
An exercise-trained older population has better repair mechanisms down to the cellular level.
Older elite athletes exceed the health and fitness of many youth athletes.
But what about more average exercise enthusiasts?
Researchers at Ball State University and its partnered hospital in Indiana decided to look at people in their 70s who aren’t elite competitors, but who had consistently worked out in some respect for the past 50 years: https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/japplphysiol.00174.2018
Their findings confirm that regular exercise (even among non-elite competitors) keeps the musculoskeletal system outrageously youthful into older age. The cardiovascular system was ONLY able to stay about 30 years younger, hence why the New York Times article title doesn’t say “50 years younger”, despite lab results showing no major difference in muscle cells between trained 75-year-olds and healthy 25-year-olds.
Other mammal studies affirm this all the way down to the intracellular level: https://faseb.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1096/fj.201600143RR
Researchers at McMaster University in Ontario found that trained older mice actually had HIGHER capillary to muscle fiber (C/F) ratios than young mice. Literally, trained older mice have more youthful muscle cells than untrained young mice.
As a credentialed and certified strength coach, trainer, and nutritionist with over 65,000 hours of professional experience, I’ve witnessed the equivalent of these researchers’ findings many times. In my own experience, I have findings which EXCEED theirs. That is, I’ve worked with older populations who heal FASTER than youth athletes. Eleven years ago, I observed a cardio-respiratory measurement on a 70-year-old triathlon enthusiast (NOT elite competitor). His measured Vo2 max was 68.0. This EXCEEDS teenage and 20-something competitive athletes: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23118070/
More recently I’ve had the opportunity to witness active older clients heal more rapidly than specific youth athletes or otherwise healthy teens. One of my mid-70s clients IMPROVED fitness at a faster rate post-knee-surgery THAN a teenager in my peer group recovered from a light muscle strain. Elderly active man healed a surgically damaged knee FASTER than healthy teenager recovered from minor muscle strain. Think about that.
Unfortunately, many youth athletes are encouraged to rest completely after even minor strains, which PREVENTS the very capillarization that allows muscle and connective tissue to heal. As we saw in the McMaster mouse study, older populations who exercise have more localized stem cells than youths. Really, dwell on this. Excessive directives to be sedentary actually make the injured tissue MORE fibrotic (aka - older). Meanwhile, elderly athletes who continue to exercise will keep more growth agents nearby, removed damaged tissue and cell waste faster, and overall improve tissue health better than young athletes who are sedentary too long.