This week I’m going to diverge from my usual review and commentary of articles published in peer-reviewed journals and write about one that I read in the New York Times. The headline read “Younger Skin Through Exercise” and after I dutifully read the pages devoted to the conflicts in the Ukraine and Syria, I was delighted to find a good-news health article which pertained to aging skin.
The author cited a study which was presented this month at the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. Having just returned from The Golden Door where, for a week, I exercised up to six hours a day with hikes, tai chi, yoga, dance, stretching, toning and Pilates I thought “wow not only did I get my body and mind in better shape, but I may have helped my skin!” So obviously I was intrigued, and unless you read the article in The New York Times, here is a summary:
The first part of the study was conducted on 29 male and female volunteers between the ages of 20 and 84. Half of the participants were active and exercised moderately or vigorously for at least three hours every week. The other half were sedentary, doing nothing or exercised for less than an hour per week. The scientists did skin biopsies from the volunteers buttocks. (They chose the tush area in order to examine skin that had not been exposed to sun… I assume the participants were not nudists.) The older volunteers had thicker outer layers of the skin and significantly thinner inner layers. But when they compared those who exercised and those who did not, they found that after age 40 the men and women who exercised frequently had markedly thinner, healthier outer layers and thicker inner layers in their skin. (Note, if for the top layer is thick it is also dryer, flakier and crocodile-like and when the underlying layer begins to thin it loses elasticity giving it a saggier appearance.)
The researchers understood that other factors, including diet, genes and lifestyles might have influenced the difference in the skin condition between the exercising and sedentary group. So they took a group of sedentary volunteers who were age 65 or older and who had normal skin for their age and had them begin an endurance training program. The volunteers worked out twice a week by jogging or cycling for 30 minutes for a period of three months. At the end of the three months, the researchers again biopsied the volunteers skin. (They were certainly brave volunteers.) Lo and behold, when viewed under the microscope, the volunteers’ skin looked like that of younger persons!
The researchers then analyzed the skin of those who had exercised and found elevated levels of a substance produced in working muscles, a myokin called IL-15. The skin samples contained almost 50% more IL-15 after exercising then at the start of the study. But before we start thinking we can just rub on some IL 15 or take a pill containing this myokin, the chief investigator specifically stated that it was unlikely that this would replicate the skin benefits of a work out.
This is a small study but I found it fascinating and felt it adds to our knowledge about the importance of exercise. Remember, the one intervention that has been found to prolong our lifespan and health span is exercise. Of course it helps to be in fabulous surroundings, focus one’s mind with meditation, get daily massages and eat great and nutritious foods… Last week was health week at The Golden Door and I was asked to give a talk on women’s health each day. I hope this was helpful to the other women there. But I have to admit that my personal health and well being significantly benefitted and perhaps it was also good for the layers of my skin! I’ll notify my dermatologist…