New research explains how exercise improves health

Mouse exercisingYou’ve probably read about the effectiveness of restricted-calorie diets for increasing longevity in animals and in humans.

Now those of us who prefer exercise to dieting can take heart: A study described in the January 2012 issue of Nature reveals that exercises uses the same mechanism to increase health and longevity.

The research article itself is limited to magazine subscribers, but Gretchen Reynolds’ New York Times article “Exercise as Housecleaning for the Body,” hits all the main points. Apparently, exercise enhances the natural system the body has for sweeping away damaged proteins, invasive viruses and bacteria, and broken down cellular components. The cleaning system, known as “autophagy” tends to slow down in middle age…but the new animal studies suggest that exercise can speed it up again.

Of course, I’m all over this study because I’ve long hoped that I could focus on exercise while continuing to eat a generally healthy, but varied, diet. For me, it’s just easier (and way more fun) to “go for the burn” three or four times a week in an Ashtanga yoga class or on a neighborhood hike than to silently beat myself up every time I enter a grocery store, go to a coffee shop or restaurant, or sit down to dinner at a friend’s house.

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