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Dr. Ole Johan Kemi,
No doubt that regular physical activity and exercise training brings about a number of beneficial effects to the human body in both health and disease. In particular, this is observed in the skeletal muscle, the artery and the heart, and in their integrated ability to transport, deliver and utilize oxygen, metabolites and nutrients needed to perform work. The question remains: could physical activity and exercise training be a tool for increasing longevity. The question this session entertained is by and large posed because we do not know much about whether physical activity may affect longevity, though clues showing that it may do so have been provided. Hence, we are still developing hypotheses to study.
This symposium assembled four speakers whose research provides these clues.
Dr. Vivianne Conraads from Belgium suggested that regular physical activity improves blood flow to the various organs and that this may potentially increase survival in humans. The biological mechanisms for increased flow of blood are most likely due to many factors, but improved or sustained availability to produce nitric oxide in the artery due to increased levels of the gene for the protein endothelial nitric oxide synthase, and stabilization and phosphorylation of the protein were suggested. Also, exercise reducing reactive oxygen species and simultaneously increasing anti-oxidant status may lead to less degradation of nitric oxide, which would also potentially affect longevity through the regulation of blood flow.
Dr. Doug Seals of the USA has studied some of these aspects in humans, and he reported that ageing is associated with reduced arterial compliance or increased stiffness, but that this is not the case in the exercise-active ageing population. In fact, arterial compliance in physically active elderly is similar to healthy young individuals. One of the key aspects for this appears to be related to less oxidative stress and the levels of nitrotyrosine in the endothelial cells of the artery.
Dr. Volker Adams of Germany reported from his experience of both clinical and experimental studies, showing that physical activity-related effects on the skeletal muscle may also affect longevity. His research findings suggest that reactive oxygen species and the balance between degradation and regeneration of muscle mass may affect longevity. It is now known that regular physical activity improves the anti-oxidant defence system and the maintenance of muscles by scavenging of free radicals, reduction of oxidative stress, activation of satellite cells, and reduction of protein degradation are important factors for a healthy regulation of the muscles.
Finally, Dr. Oyvind Ellingsen of Norway reported that exercise also improves pump capacity of the heart (athlete’s heart) by inducing better contractile function and increasing the size of the heart. This happens in an exercise intensity-dependent manner. A potential molecular key to these findings may lie in the activation of the protein kinase B/Akt signal pathway that comes with exercise.
In the end, we do not know much about the molecular effects of regular physical activity that may impact longevity and lifespan. However, animal studies have indicated that inherent fitness levels have a substantial effect on lifespan; a poor genetically caused fitness is linked to shorter lives by as much as 6-8 months in rats. This would translate into many years of human years.
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Does physical activity provide a molecular key to longevity? Basic Science Track