This isn’t exactly the first time that exercise has been labeled the fountain of youth. In a new study, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is seen to help slow the aging process on the cellular level.

This form of training led cells to manufacture more proteins to feed their mitochondria or their very own energy-producing machinery.

HIIT Effects In Young And Old

For senior study author and Mayo Clinic diabetes researcher Dr. Sreekumaran Nair, there’s simply no substitute for a good exercise regimen in delaying aging.

“These things we are seeing cannot be done by any medicine,” said Nair in a statement, noting that HIIT in particularly is “highly effective” in reversing many age-related bodily changes.

Nair and his team recruited men and women from two age groups for the study: the younger ones or 18 to 30-year-old volunteers, and older ones from ages 65 to 80. The participants were divided into three mixed-age groups and assigned to a specific training program: high-intensity interval biking, strength training with weights, and combined strength and interval training.

Before and after every training session, the team performed different tests on the volunteers, from taking BMI measurements to checking insulin sensitivity, an indicator of diabetes. They then took biopsies of each subject’s thigh muscles and compared their muscle cells’ molecular makeup to samples from sedentary subjects.

At the cellular level, those in the HIIT group reaped the biggest benefits. Younger volunteers in the HIIT group saw a 49 percent increase in mitochondrial capacity, while older ones saw an even more significant 69 percent increase.

Interval training also enhanced their insulin sensitivity, which translated to a lower likelihood of diabetes.

It also appeared, however, that interval training was less effective in muscle strength enhancement, which usually becomes harder to achieve with age.

How Exercise Helps At The Molecular Level

As humans age, the energy-producing ability of mitochondria gradually decreases. Most cells in the body contain these “organelles” or a smaller version of an organ within a given cell, functioning like tiny, energy-giving batteries.

In their analysis, the researchers saw that exercise boosts the cellular production of both mitochondrial proteins and the proteins tasked in muscle growth. Especially in older people, the significant rise in mitochondrial function that took place was due to enhanced protein abundance of muscle, Nair explained.

In addition, if exercise prevents the decline of mitochondria or ribosomes in muscle cells, it could also do the same in other tissues, and lead to insights on how to better tackle aging specifically in those who cannot exercise.

Physiology and exercise science expert Jennifer Trilk said that the new research supports existing studies on the matter. She warned that mitochondrial dysfunction, as well as lack of function is also having cell dysfunction, a peek into future issues such as diabetes, cancers, and cardiovascular conditions.

As a recommendation, Nair encourages doing 3 to 4 days a week of interval training and a few days of strength training. Of course, some exercise is better than nothing, he added.

The findings were discussed in the journal Cell Metabolism.

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