Testing Autophagy as a Mechanism of Longevity for Exercise

Exercise extends healthy life in laboratory animals, but not maximum life span as is the case for calorie restriction. In longer lived species such as our own, that difference may be slight: present evidence suggests exercise and calorie restriction to have broadly similar - though very different in detail - effects on life expectancy. The end results are probably in the same ballpark, and quite possibly achieved through an overlapping set of mechanisms. That said, while exercise is certainly good for you, I've yet to see a study on exercise that reproduces similar eye-opening changes in underlying biomarkers of health to those found in human calorie restriction practitioners. Exercise is "merely" great for health, as opposed to amazingly superb for health.

So, obviously, the sensible thing to do is both exercise regularly and practice calorie restriction. Based on the weight of evidence, this is the 80/20 of what can be done today to optimize health for the long term in a basically healthy individual. The complement to this approach is doing your part to ensure that medical technology produces methods of rejuvenation in time to help you in later age when good health practices are no longer enough to stave off significant degeneration and risk of death.

There is a school of thought that places the processes of autophagy front and center when it comes to natural methods of adjusting metabolism for length of health and life. Autophagy is the process by which cells break down damaged components, the first step in recycling and replacement: fewer damaged components at any given time is a good thing, and so more autophagy should also be a good thing. You might recall a demonstration that autophagy is essential to the life span and health benefits of calorie restriction, for example.

I notice that scientists are suggesting that autophagy is similarly important to the health and life span benefits produced by regular exercise:

Dr Levine and her team were testing a theory that exercise works its magic, at least in part, by promoting autophagy. This process, whose name is derived from the Greek for "self-eating", is a mechanism by which surplus, worn-out or malformed proteins and other cellular components are broken up for scrap and recycled.

To carry out the test, Dr Levine turned to those stalwarts of medical research, genetically modified mice. Her first batch of rodents were tweaked so that their autophagosomes - structures that form around components which have been marked for recycling - glowed green. After these mice had spent half an hour on a treadmill, she found that the number of autophagosomes in their muscles had increased, and it went on increasing until they had been running for 80 minutes.

To find out what, if anything, this exercise-boosted autophagy was doing for mice, the team engineered a second strain that was unable to respond this way. Exercise, in other words, failed to stimulate their recycling mechanism. When this second group of modified mice were tested alongside ordinary ones, they showed less endurance and had less ability to take up sugar from their bloodstreams.

There were longer-term effects, too. In mice, as in people, regular exercise helps prevent diabetes. But when the team fed their second group of modified mice a diet designed to induce diabetes, they found that exercise gave no protection at all.

Autophagy is one of a number of potential mechanisms by which exercise improves long term health. You might look back at a post from the archives for more:

Physical inactivity is increasingly recognized as modifiable behavioral risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. A partial list of proposed mechanisms for exercise-induced cardioprotection include induction of heat shock proteins, increase in cardiac antioxidant capacity, expression of endoplasmic reticulum stress proteins, anatomical and physiological changes in the coronary arteries, changes in nitric oxide production, adaptational changes in cardiac mitochondria, increased autophagy, and improved function of sarcolemmal and/or mitochondrial ATP-sensitive potassium channels. It is currently unclear which of these protective mechanisms are essential for exercise-induced cardioprotection. ... A better understanding of the molecular basis of exercise-induced cardioprotection will help to develop better therapeutic strategies.

I have been interested in prevention nearly all my adult life. I have been an exerciser during most of my life-more after age 40 and even more after I retired at age 75 in 1997.
I found your article very interesting.
I am also interested in prevention and treatment of sarcopenia.

Posted by: Donald W. Bales, M.D. retired at January 30th, 2012 5:17 PM

There is a broad consensus that exercise is good for your health and vitality. Jack LaLanne was an icon of this approach and also a proponent fresh juicing. He looked very trim and healthy and lived a robust 96 years.
There is also a case for vitamins and a recent study that showed mice fed vitamins did not show signs of age and muscle tone compared to a control group. It seems that nematodes live significantly longer if given a minute amount of ethanol in their diet. This might explain the French paradox. I believe all of the above are contributing factors. Calorie restriction may tap into the genetic response to lean times and offer a bridge to adequate food supply and the increased use of autophagy. Merely clearing the dead wood away will also eliminate other conditions and inflammation.

In my opinion the most promising areas of research are stem cells and telomere condition. We know that bad things start to occur when telomeres are short. We know that these end parts can get shorter due to oxidative stress and also response to stress in general. The enzyme that protects the telomeres can be induced by exercise and meditation but another intervention may be more effective in turning on the gene responsible for telomerase production. Stem cells are also stimulated by exercise. The problem is replication of all cells including stem cells is dependent on the telomere condition.

The first application of this approach is the derivative of the Astragalus root called TA-65. Time after time users report improvement in their health and well being. In my own case their were changes in appearance, attitude and endurance. I definitely slept better and woke up alert and ready for the day. It is expensive but not as much as the alternative of healthcare especially in chronic conditions.

In this same vein there is Product B that also is aimed at telomere health. Users already are reporting improvements in their eyesight. Stem cell therapy on the retina is also getting dramatic results. NFL players are extending their careers by having their own stem cells extracted, cultured and re-injected where damage has occurred. This must be done offshore because it is not FDA approved. The FDA also is lobbying to exert control over the vitamin industry. These are obvious threats to the longevity cause.

In conclusion we should exercise more, eat less, take our vitamins and use some sort of telomerase stimulant. We should support stem cell research not ban it.

Bernie Kitts

Posted by: Bernie Kitts at January 31st, 2012 5:23 AM


What is "Product B"?

Posted by: Mike at February 1st, 2012 6:07 PM

wow great post wow

Posted by: sda at March 5th, 2012 10:29 AM
Comment Submission

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.