Why To Exercise Today: Youth And Shiny Fur

Can exercise actually alter the course of aging?

I must thank my mother here.

At a month shy of 75, she has no chronic illnesses, takes no medications regularly and exercises consistently. Sure, her aggressive tennis game has mellowed, and she’s not the driven athlete she was back in early 70s, when, as a single mom, she awoke at dawn, drove to a park in Red Hook, Brooklyn and jogged around a track with a group of women wearing Keds and tight Danskin shirts in lieu of running bras.

But she showed me early on how vigorous exercise throughout life can thwart depression and preserve at least a bit of youth as time marches uncontrollably forward.

So it gave me a lift dwelling on this morning’s “most viewed” story in The New York Times: Gretchen Reynolds on how exercise can actually alter the course of aging (ok, it’s in mice, but still…)

In addition to keeping a strain of mice from becoming prematurely gray, Reynolds reports that “exercise reduced or eliminated almost every detrimental effect of aging in mice that had been genetically programmed to grow old at an accelerated pace.”

At 8 months, when their sedentary lab mates were bald, frail and dying, the running rats remained youthful. They had full pelts of dark fur, no salt-and-pepper shadings. They also had maintained almost all of their muscle mass and brain volume. Their gonads were normal, as were their hearts. They could balance on narrow rods, the showoffs.

But perhaps most remarkable, although they still harbored the mutation that should have affected mitochondrial repair, they had more mitochondria over all and far fewer with mutations than the sedentary mice had. At 1 year, none of the exercising mice had died of natural causes. (Some were sacrificed to compare their cellular health to that of the unexercised mice, all of whom were, by that age, dead.)

Q&A: Lessons From Rutgers Internet Suicide

The front page of today’s New York Times carries the tragic story of a Rutgers freshman who committed suicide after two of his classmates secretly filmed him in a gay sexual encounter and broadcast it on the Internet.
CommonHealth just spoke with S. Bryn Austin, a public health researcher at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School. She has studied the effects of violence, bullying and harassment on gay, lesbian and bisexual youth, and the extremely negative consequences the abuse has on their health.

Q: Can this awful story be turned into a “teachable moment?” What’s the takeaway?

A: This is a devastating story. It’s despicable that this could be happening now, in 2010, in the United States, after all that we know abut how harmful anti-gay harassment and anti-gay stigma are. It’s inhumane and it’s intolerable. I think what we need to realize in our communities — in our university settings or churches or synagogues or neighborhoods — is that it’s our responsibility to protect our youth and each other from this kind of harassment because it is so harmful. I would guess that the folks who were involved in this might not themselves be terrible people; the mistake they made is in not realizing that they were tapping into a very powerful and dangerous stigma and environment of harassment that gay and lesbian and bisexual youth have to live through every day, 24/7. And that added so much power to the harmful and disrespectful and inhumane behavior that they perpetrated against this youth. Continue reading