Want to Age Well? These Exercises Are Best for Slowing down Aging Process

Activities like running, swimming and cycling are better at slowing the body's aging process than weightlifting, according to scientists.

Researchers in Germany set out to investigate which forms of exercise could best slow cellular aging. They compared endurance training (like running or cycling), resistance training (like weightlifting) and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Their work focused on telomeres: compound structures at the end of our chromosomes that protect our DNA. Over time, these waste away, causing our cells to age. Proteins like telomerase help to control how quickly our telomeres become shorter.

Researchers studied 266 healthy volunteers between 30 to 60 years old. The participants, who didn't smoke, had exercised less than an hour per week in the past 12 months and were therefore defined as inactive.

Activities like running, swimming and cycling are better at slowing the body’s aging process than weightlifting, according to researchers. Getty Images

The participants were randomly assigned one form of exercise regime that they were asked to complete three times a week for six months. Other lifestyle factors, like diet, stayed the same.

Endurance involved 45 minutes of walking or running. The resistance group completed a circuit of eight machine-based exercises, such as back extensions, crunches, pulldowns, seated rowing, seated leg curls and extensions, seated chest presses and lying leg presses.

The interval training group, meanwhile, were asked to perform HIIT according to the "4x4" method: Individuals exerted themselves to their maximum four times for four-minute sessions, punctuated by three-minute segments of lower intensity exercise.

Of the total participants, 124 finished the study. The research team compared the telomere lengths of the volunteers before and after the six-month regime.

Related: Two minutes of high-intensity exercise provides same benefit as 30-minute moderate workout

The study published in the journal European Heart Journal showed HIIT and endurance training lengthened telomeres and boosted telomerase activity. But resistance training didn't produce the same results.

Researchers were surprised to find there was a "clear difference between endurance training and resistance training with regard to telomere regulation."

Ioakim Spyridopoulos, a professor of cardiology and cardiovascular gerontology at Newcastle University, in the U.K., told Newsweek: "The most surprising result is that aerobic exercise, but not resistance training, induced telomerase activity."

He explained this not only leads to longer telomeres, which are "regarded as the clock of life," but these forms of exercise were also found to have a beneficial effect on inflammation in the body.

"This is despite the fact that resistance training leads to a similar increase in maximal oxygen uptake, suggesting a different (maybe advantageous) mechanism how aerobic exercise can delay the aging process compared to resistance exercise," he said.

The paper lays the groundwork for future studies into how the benefits could be boosted by nutrient and food supplements that could activate telomerase, said Spyridopoulos.

Ulrich Laufs, a professor of cardiology at Leipzig University, in Germany, who lead the study, told Newsweek: "With regard to training recommendations for the prevention of cellular aging, our data suggest that resistance exercise should be complementary to endurance training rather than a substitute."