mature couple exercising outdoors

Exercise will make you look younger! Exercise will make you look older! Endurance running rejuvenates our muscles! Endurance running gives you wrinkles!

Wow. There certainly is a lot of conflicting information out there about exercising. 

Certain facts about aging are indisputable. The sagging and wrinkling of the skin that occurs as we get older is the result of the outer layer of our skin thickening while the inner layer our skin thins, as well as the gradual loss of collagen and elastin. Add these biological factors to environmental factors such as pollution, sun damage and stress, and the result is the unavoidable aging of our skin. Taking good care of ourselves through a healthy diet, adequate sleep, sun protection and yes, the topical application of anti-aging products containing actives that fight cellular damage and help restore collagen, can help us look and feel our very best.

But what about exercise? There is no doubt that exercise can help improve our cardiovascular health, strengthen our bones, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and reduce stress. It can even give us a mental boost through the release of feel-good endorphins. Yet what is the relationship between exercise and our skin?

A new report by the New York Times claims that "Exercise not only appears to keep skin younger, it may also even reverse skin aging in people who start exercising late in life." Scientists at McMaster first tested the skin of volunteers ages 20 to 84, dividing them into groups of those who were active and those who were sedentary. When compared only by age, the skin of the older volunteers had thicker outer layers and thinner inner layers. However, when compared by exercise habits, the skin of 40+ volunteers who exercised frequently was closer in composition to that of 20- and 30-year-olds. Since other factors such as diet, genes and lifestyle could have been partly responsible for those differences, the scientists next decided to test only sedentary volunteers aged 65 or older. Dividing them into two groups and giving one an endurance training program for three months, the results spoke for themselves: The skin of the once-sedentary volunteers now had outer and inner layers that resembled those of 20- to 40-year-olds. One possible explanation for these results is myokines, which are substances created by working muscles that "enter the bloodstream and jump-start changes in cells." After the study was completed, the skin samples of the volunteers contained almost 50% more levels of a myokine called IL-15.

Despite this promising research, the study concluded that there was no evidence that exercise could reverse wrinkling or the sun damage caused by outdoor exercise. This conclusion was in line with the article written by Sunil, who said that long-distance running can make your face look older because of three factors: exposure to sun, exposure to wind, and the loss of body fat. Conversely, though, it can make your body look younger as it tightens your core, tones your muscles and gives you leaner legs. Marta quoted a study done by Tel Aviv University, which suggested that muscle deterioration can actually be reversed by running. Their lab research with rats of different ages and sexes that ran on a treadmill every day showed an "increase in the average number of stem cells per muscle fiber retained." 

The results of working out sound resoundingly positive so far, right? Not quite. In Copley's article, she examined different studies that researched the relationship between exercise and the length of telomeres, which are the caps at the ends of chromosomes (the molecules that carry genes). Every time a cell divides, telomeres shorten. Eventually telomeres get so short that cells can no longer divide, which triggers cell death and in turn, produces the effects of aging. A British study involving twins found that the "length of the twins' telomeres was directly related to their activity levels." However, a South Korean study that investigated the effects of heavy exercise on the telomeres of sedentary, middle-aged women showed that exercise actually shrank their telomeres. A study conducted by the University of Florida found that the group performing high-intensity weight-bearing exercise showed a 2% increase in free radical damage, even though they improved muscle strength, bone mass and aerobic fitness. When exercise is exhaustive, according to research from the University of Valencia Department of Physiology, it leads to cellular damage and undue strain on many parts of the body including skin.

So, what is our takeaway from all these studies? It seems safe to conclude that moderate, regular exercise has the most benefits for both body and aging skin. Although many people still hold to the old adage, "no pain no gain," research has clearly shown that exercise should feel good in order to do the most good. Also, it would behoove all of to take extra care of our skin when exercising outdoors. Protect your skin from the elements with a good sunscreen and with the proper sun-protective clothing.