UK researchers have found that elderly people who get plenty of exercise seem to be staving off the expected decline of their immune systems… by about 60 years. Data yielded from 125 long-distance cyclists, many of whom were in their 80s, showed that they had the high-functioning, infection-thwarting immune systems of 20 year olds. Feel free to hop on the stationary bike that’s been collecting dust in your basement as you read the rest of this.
Professor Janet Lord, study co-author and director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham, explains that “the immune system declines by about 2-3% a year from our 20s, which is why older people are more susceptible to infections, conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and, potentially, cancer.” But her data shows that the steadily weakening immune response that would normally leave us increasingly vulnerable as we age is far from a fate we must all simply accept. So long as exercise is a priority. “Because the cyclists have the immune system of a 20-year-old rather than a 70 or 80-year-old, it means they have added protection against all these issues,” says Lord.
The health boon for the ageing endurance cyclists studied, explain researchers, hinges on the production of a lymphocyte (or white blood cell) known as a T cell. Side note: endurance cycling events typically range from 100 km to 300 km rides. For context, 100 klicks on a bike will likely take you about 3 hours — so do ease in slowly if you’re inspired but it’s been a long winter of sofa comas.
Prof Norman Lazarus, 82, of King’s College London, who took part in and co-authored the research, said: “If exercise was a pill, everyone would be taking it.
“It has wide-ranging benefits for the body, the mind, for our muscles and our immune system.”
Steve Harridge, co-author and professor of physiology at King’s College London, said: “Being sedentary goes against evolution because humans are designed to be physically active.
“You don’t need to be a competitive athlete to reap the benefits – or be an endurance cyclist – anything which gets you moving and a little bit out of puff will help.”