Until now, science has not been able to establish categorically whether aging is primarily the result of the passage of time or if positive lifestyle choices, such as exercise can delay the aging process.

However, a new study, published in The Journal of Physiology, may have changed this.  Scientists at King’s College London and the University of Birmingham in England looked at the health of older people who are relatively active and how exercise has impacted their aging.

Stephen Harridge, MD senior author of the study and director of the Center of Human and Aerospace Physiological Sciences at King’s College London, explained to New York Times:“We wanted to understand what happens to the functioning of our bodies as we get older if we take the best-case scenario.”

The study

The scientists recruited 85 men and 41 women aged between 55 and 79 who cycle regularly. The volunteers were all serious recreational riders but not competitive athletes. The men had to be able to ride at least 62 miles in six and a half hours and the women 37 miles in five and a half hours, considered benchmarks typical of a high degree of fitness in older people.

The scientists then ran each volunteer through a large array of physical and cognitive tests. They determined each cyclist’s endurance capacity, muscular mass and strength, pedaling power, metabolic health, balance, memory function, bone density and reflexes. They also had the volunteers complete the Timed Up and Go test, during which someone stands up from a chair without using his or her arms, briskly walks about 10 feet, turns, walks back and sits down again.

Exercise - cycling
The researchers compared the results of cyclists in the study against each other and also against standard benchmarks of what is considered normal aging.

Dr. Harridge said that the results suggest that the aging process is different for active people. How we age is to a large extent up to each individual.

“If you gave this data set to a clinician and asked him to predict the age of one of the cyclists based on his or her test results, it would be impossible. On paper, they all look young.” He added: “Being physically active makes your body function on the inside more like a young person’s.”

Further research is needed to solidify this study. However, either way, it’s a great idea to become more active now, to keep young.