WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Exercise should not be taken for granted in old age as it can help in enhancing the immune system and in protecting them against infections.
- Scientists observed 125 long-distance cyclists, including octogenarians, and discovered they had the immune systems of young adults.
- Published in the journal Aging Cell, the research concluded that remaining to be physically active even as we grow old will help us respond better to vaccines, hence, improved protection against infections such as flu.
The research co-author, 82-year-old Prof Norman Lazarus of King’s College London, also took part in the research and 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.”
“The immune system declines by about 2-3% a year from our 20s,” Prof Janet Lord, also a study co-author and director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, at the University of Birmingham, said. “Which is why older people are more susceptible to infections, conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and, potentially, cancer.”
“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,” she added.
The researchers said that the cyclists were producing the same level of T-cells in the blood as young adults, in contrast to a group of inactive older adults who were producing less.
T-cells are a type of white blood cells produced in the thymus, a gland associated with the immune system and help it combat infections.
Another co-author, Steve Harridge, a 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.”
One of the endurance cyclists, Pam Jones, 79, said: “I do it for my health, because it’s sociable, and because I enjoy the freedom it gives you.”
Brian Matkins, 82, also part of the group, said: “One of the first results I got from the medical study was I was told my body fat was comparable to that of a 19-year-old.”