You can knock years off your biological age – Prof Peter Herbert

As we age, there’s a gradual decline on strength, power and aerobic capacity – if we don’t exercise. From the age of 40, about 90g of muscle is lost each year. By the time you’ve reached 50, aerobic capacity (in non-athletes) decreases by 16%. This is according to Professor Peter Herbert from the Centre for Health and Ageing at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. Herbert has focused his attention on finding out if there are any workouts that will halt this gradual decline as we age. Here’s the good news – in a recent paper published in ‘Experimental Gerontology’, he revealed that his research proved it was possible to reduce your biological age through exercise. Herbert told BizNews that the workouts that do make a difference are not only for athletes. – Linda van Tilburg

Professor Peter Herbert on reducing your biological age through exercise:

The evidence is indisputable. It’s showing how effective high intensity, interval training is in improving our aerobic capacity. That’s also known as VO2 max. What many don’t realise, is that this measure – that almost all top sportsmen and women in the world would have had at some point in their careers – is also regarded as the gold standard assessment of health. Lower scores in the VO2 max indicate an increasing risk of morbidity and mortality.

In 2012, I got 20 very fit and about 19 very unfit men between the age of 55 and 76. They followed a six-week programme – six, thirty second very intensive efforts in the laboratory on a bike, three minutes between each sprint, once every five days. So it’s quite infrequent, it’s not much at all. We found that there were very significant increases in their VO2 max, with all the participants. This is just for one session every five days. It actually amounts to three minutes total of work – but extremely hard work.

On the study:

We showed that it was safe to actually get men who hadn’t exercise for a long time – the ones who are extremely unfit, we gave them a six-week, very moderate exercise programme to do – not high intensity, just to get themselves up to a reasonable standard. We push them into this with all the men that we used to doing some sort of high intensity exercise. The reasons we had the success was that, when we age, it takes longer to recover from exercise.

So we allow for that recovery. Nobody did any exercise within that five days rest and this is all they did for six weeks. Nine sessions in six weeks and we got these tremendous increases – not just only in VO2 max and aerobic capacity – we got massive increases in leg power and improved leg musculature. We showed testosterone levels increased with the exercise and so on. It was a very successful study.

On what the training entailed:

I should point out that if anybody had any sort of morbid type conditions, they wouldn’t have been allowed to come on the study. The only sort of people that came in a slight medical problem was those with controlled pressure. It was six maximum efforts on a cycleogometer for 30 seconds. They had three minutes recovery between these efforts. That was the session. Three minutes of hard work and lots of recovery. Each effort produced a lot of power, because they were recovered quite well. What we showed before and after their VO2 max score had increased – even with the ones that were extremely fit.

That basically is telling us that older people can [exercise] safely – as long as they’re healthy. What we found was, is that the people that continued four years later on, they were mainly the athletes. They were used to very hard training. They could cope with it. They were motivated enough to put up with it, to get themselves the fittest they possibly can be. 

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