I’ve never been much of a long distance runner and I prefer short sharp sprints and interval training to endurance sports. The name just seems to sum it up: endurance. Hours of repetitive movements. Treadmill, hamster wheel, what’s the difference. But I might have to rethink my biases because I just found out that endurance exercise makes you look younger.

A recent study from Tel Aviv University has found that endurance exercises rejuvenates our muscles and keeps us youthful. That doesn’t seem shockingly new, but the breakthrough that the scientists made was to explain how. It seems that exercise unlocks the stem cells of our muscles.

When we age, we experience sarcopenia, a decline in mass and function of muscles, and osteopenia, which is bone loss.  That double whammy explains why, as we get older, we are more likely to fall over. Personally, I can imagine nothing worse. Leaving aside the risk of injury, it is downright embarrassing.

What’s exciting about this new research is that it suggests that muscle deterioration can be reversed. Comparing the performance of rats of different ages and sexes, they found that the number of satellite cells increased after rats ran on a treadmill for 20 minutes a day for a 13-week period. The younger rats showed a 20 per cent to 35 per cent increase in the average number of stem cells per muscle fiber retained – and older rats benefited even more significantly, exhibiting a 33 per cent to 47 per cent increase in stem cells.

Now because the researchers only gave the rats a treadmill, we don’t know if the same wouldn’t apply to any exercise including interval or weight training.  I’m willing to bet that all exercise, not just endurance, will get those muscle stem cells going. However, I will hedge my bets and make sure I incorporate some jogging and rowing (machine) into my routine.

Especially as I read that endurance exercise also improved the levels of “spontaneous locomotion” of old rats. That’s what scientists call that feeling which tells our bodies to just get up and dance. This aging rat could do with getting in touch with her inner party girl again.

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