Exercise prevents skin aging
Numerous studies over decades have shown that regular exercise improves your health and slows your rate of ageing. Mark Tarnopolsky at McMaster University in Canada says that a person can slow the speed at which they age, improve their quality of life and extend their lifespan by up to five years by exercising regularly. His research suggests that older adults receive the most benefits when combining endurance exercise with resistance exercise.
Tarnopolsky previously showed that exercise could slow aging in mice. (1) Mice that were specially bred to age prematurely rapidly grew frail, wizened, sick and demented, with their hair going grey or bald when they were prevented from exercising. However, when they were given access to running wheels they maintained their health far longer, with healthy hearts, muscles, brains, reproductive and other organs. Their fur retained its colour and did not go grey, and was much longer and thicker than that of the sedentary mice.
After about age 40, most of us begin to experience a thickening of our stratum corneum, the outermost, protective layer of the epidermis. The stratum corneum is the surface layer of the skin that you can see and feel. Being composed mostly of dead skin cells and some collagen, it gets thicker, drier, flakier and denser with age.
However, at the same time some of the other layers of skin beneath the stratum corneum (in both the epidermis and the dermis) begin to thin. The skin loses its elasticity and plumpness, giving it a thin, wrinkly, saggier appearance. When an older skin is pinched or pressed, it does not immediately revert to its former state.
Tarnopolsky and his team (2) tested the effects of exercise on the skin of 29 human volunteers aged between 20 and 84. Half the group were kept sedentary, exercising for less than an hour per week. The other half were active, doing at least three hours of moderate or vigorous physical exercise each week.
A biopsy of skin was taken from each volunteer's buttock (an area of skin not often exposed to the sun). When the samples were compared by age, the results were as expected with older volunteers having thinner stratum corneums. But when the researchers looked at which of them had been exercising and which of them were sedentary, it was clear that those who exercised frequently had significantly thinner, healthier stratum corneums and thicker dermis layers. The skins of the exercisers (even those over 65 years) were much closer in composition to that of 20 and 30 year-olds.
However, this did not allow for other factors that can age the skin. They include sun damage, stress, lack of sleep, poor hydration, smoking, pollution, bad diet, ill health, unlucky genes and unhealthy lifestyles.
To allow for these additional aging factors, the researchers gathered a second group of volunteers. The new group was aged at 65 or older and had normal skin for their age. A skin biopsy at the start of this test showed that they had 65 year and older skins. They did a three month aerobic training program, jogging or cycling twice a week for 30 minutes. They maintained a moderately strenuous pace, equivalent to at least 65 percent of their maximum aerobic capacity.
The skin biopsies at the end of the second test were quite dramatic. The skin composition of both the inner and outer layers were similar to those of 20 to 40 year-olds. Under a microscope, the volunteers' skin "looked like that of a much younger person", according to Tarnopolsky.
The researchers are not sure why exercise is so effective, but did find that some small proteins called myokines are secreted into the bloodstream by working muscles, and that there was 50% more of a myokine called IL-15 in the skin samples of volunteers at the end of the study than at the start. However there are other substances and processes involved, and it is unlikely that a pill will ever replicate the skin benefits of a workout.
Unfortunately there is no evidence that exercise reverses wrinkling and other forms of skin damage (such as from sunburn, long-term stress, bad diet, toxic chemicals etc). In summary, regular moderately strenuous exercise slows and even reverses skin aging from the passage of time, along with a range of other great health benefits for the rest of your body.
1. Adeel Safdara, Jacqueline M. Bourgeoisd, Daniel I. Ogborne, Jonathan P. Littlea, Bart P. Hettingab, Mahmood Akhtarb, James E. Thompsonf, Simon Melovg, Nicholas J. Mocellinb, Gregory C. Kujothh, Tomas A. Prollah, Mark A. Tarnopolsky.
Endurance exercise rescues progeroid aging and induces systemic mitochondrial rejuvenation in mtDNA mutator mice.
22 February 2011, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1019581108.
2. Mark A. Tarnopolsky. Exercise as a Countermeasure for Aging: From Mice to Humans. April 2014. Annual Meeting of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM).