Aging is a complex, multifactorial process that impacts all cells and bodily systems. And despite best intentions, aging is inevitable. But it may be possible to slow the speed at which we age. Regular exercise can prevent accelerated aging and reduce the risk of chronic diseases, improving healthspan and allowing you to slow seemingly unstoppable aging processes.
InsideTracker’s personal health analysis and data-driven wellness plans provide science-backed recommendations to help people live healthier longer. For people who aim to target aging processes, focusing on cardiovascular and strength-based exercises can improve aging-related markers.
Here’s what you need to know about accelerated aging and how exercise can prevent it.
What is accelerated aging?
Accelerated aging occurs when your biological age surpasses your chronological age. Biological age refers to the body’s internal age—reflecting how well your body works. Conversely, chronological age is the time you’ve been alive. Lifestyle factors—such as diet, exercise, and the environment—influence biological age, whereas chronological age is unaffected by these behaviors. InsideTracker’s InnerAge 2.0 algorithm calculates biological age by analyzing blood biomarkers associated with aging.
While certain medical conditions can accelerate aging (and are best discussed with a physician) other causes of accelerated aging can be a result of lifestyle and environmental factors. The causes of accelerated aging are multifactorial but can include:
- Damage that affects DNA and telomeres: Telomeres are the caps at the end of DNA strands that protect the DNA from damage and enable chromosomes to replicate appropriately. Environmental exposures, free radicals, or disruptions to DNA replication can lead to genetic damage of telomeres. [1,2] Though telomere length naturally decreases with age, inflammation and oxidative stress can heighten and expedite this process. [2,3]
- Loss of muscle mass or sarcopenia: Multiple factors promote the onset of sarcopenia. Age-related physiological changes, like cognitive decline and hormonal changes, and lifestyle factors contribute to muscle mass loss, leading to an increased risk of chronic diseases (like insulin resistance) that accelerate aging. 
- Metabolic and cardiovascular health: Though markers associated with metabolic and cardiovascular health—such as glucose, hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), and lipid levels—slowly increase with age, elevated blood biomarkers can signify accelerated aging, especially if they’re due to lifestyle factors like smoking, physical inactivity, and diet.
- Epigenetic alterations that influence the expression of specific genes: Whether certain genes are turned on or off can impact healthspan and increase or reduce longevity. 
- Chronic inflammation due to impaired immune and inflammatory cell responses: Chronic inflammation contributes to health conditions associated with aging, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. 
Many causes of accelerated aging happen at a cellular level, but the effects on the body can be experienced tangibly through how you feel and through your risk of age-related health conditions.
InsideTracker’s InnerAge 2.0 algorithm analyzes blood biomarkers associated with aging to calculate your biological age. Compared to other aging clocks that analyze epigenetics or telomere length, blood testing is a reliable metric that is impacted by lifestyle factors and correlated with aging. It’s a good pulse check to evaluate whether your body is experiencing signs of accelerated aging and offers personalized, science-backed recommendations to counteract those signs—helping you live healthier longer. Exercise is one of the most prevalent recommendations to help lower your biological age.
How does exercise prevent accelerated aging?
There are many ways that exercise prevents accelerated aging. Exercise mitigates oxidative stress, inflammation, and epigenetic changes. And, additional research suggests that exercise encourages the body to adapt by mimicking age-related physiological changes. This helps prepare the body to become more resilient toward future stressors associated with aging or age-related chronic diseases. [2,5]
The benefits of exercise extend beyond reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Exercise affects all bodily systems, positively influencing age-related internal processes. How exercise prevents accelerated aging includes:
- Lessening neurodegeneration and cognitive changes. Exercise influences the activity of neurotrophic factors (molecules that help with the growth, survival, and maturation of neurons), which help preserve cognitive function. Moreover, exercise may reduce the accumulation of damaged proteins that can lead to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. [6,7]
- Decreasing blood pressure and improving other aspects of cardiovascular health, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and endothelial function.  Cardiorespiratory fitness declines with aging. But exercise, specifically aerobic exercise, can improve age-related declines associated with cardiovascular health. For example, exercise increases nitric oxide (a compound that signals blood vessels to relax and expand) production, improving blood flow and allowing greater oxygen delivery to muscles. 
- Supporting metabolic health by increasing resting metabolic rate, fat oxidation, and muscle protein synthesis, which helps attenuate weight gain and protect against sarcopenia. 
- Promoting muscle function and body composition through muscle strength and endurance, and balance and flexibility changes. 
How can you tell if exercise is helping to prevent accelerated aging?
Many of the exercise benefits mentioned above occur at a cellular level and over time. Despite this, it is possible to assess whether exercise prevents accelerated aging. Testing to evaluate physical fitness—the ability to engage in physical activity and exercise—enables you to monitor how your athletic endeavors help delay aging. Physical fitness is associated with reduced all-cause mortality and increased life expectancy. 
In addition, blood testing measures biomarkers associated with aging and lifestyle—giving insight as to what habitual changes you can make to target aging processes.
- Aerobic capacity or VO2max: Exercise improves aerobic capacity (the amount of oxygen the body can use in a given time) or VO2max, which is associated with cardiovascular health. VO2max can be used to assess the risk of all-cause mortality, especially death from cardiovascular disease.  Stress tests are typically used to evaluate VO2max, but heart-rate variability—easily obtained through wearable devices—acts as a proxy for VO2max, as both metrics are correlated.
- Bloodwork: Routine blood testing allows you to see how new exercise routines impact relevant blood biomarkers. Exercise mitigates the effects of high cholesterol and high blood sugar, two conditions associated with metabolic and cardiovascular health. And blood tests for inflammatory markers—such as high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP)—can help assess changes to muscle strength and mass, as high levels of inflammation are associated with muscle loss and reduced strength. Regularly exercising can reduce hsCRP levels. But following appropriate training and recovery protocols is key, as overtraining can negate the benefits. [10-13] Blood sugar and cholesterol markers are included in InsideTracker’s InnerAge 2.0 analysis.
- Strength tests: A one-minute push-up test may be reliable for assessing upper-body strength. One study among healthy Finnish men found that the number of push-ups during this test correlated with fat-free body mass.  And lean mass is associated with a reduced risk of developing age-related chronic diseases. 
Benefits of exercise on aging processes
Exercise is positively linked to healthy aging and provides countless benefits related to improved healthspan. Regularly exercising reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol—increasing the likelihood of living longer in good health.
Moreover, physical activity strengthens joints, improves immune system activity, and provides a greater sense of well-being and mental health. 
Improved muscle mass and body composition
Research suggests aerobic and resistance training encourage favorable body composition and muscle mass changes. Researchers of a large meta-analysis found that engaging in regular resistance training for at least four weeks was associated with a 1.4% reduction in body fat percentage and a 0.55-kilogram decrease in body fat mass on average compared to no exercise.  Moreover, simultaneously combining resistance and aerobic-based exercises increases lean muscle mass while reducing body fat. 
Reduced risk of age-related diseases
Regular exercise reduces the risk of developing age-related chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, sarcopenia, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. Some benefits of exercise on age-related diseases are due to changes in body composition that include reductions in body fat, increases in muscle mass, and improved muscle function. [15,18]
In particular, strength training encourages weight loss, helps with weight maintenance, prevents osteoporosis, promotes well-being, and benefits stability, balance, and functional capacity or the ability to engage in activities of daily living. 
Improved mental health and quality of life
Regular physical activity regardless of the type (yoga, walking, or Tai Chi, for example), can improve quality of life and well-being. And research in this area is continuously evolving.
Researchers are attributing some of these mental health benefits to exercise’s effect on neurotransmitters in the brain associated with anxiety, depression, and mood.  The beneficial effect of exercise appears more pronounced in people without dementia or cognitive impairment. However, physical activity may slow the progression of these age-related cognitive diseases. 
Incorporating more physical activity into your lifestyle can increase longevity, regardless of previous exercise levels and risk factors for chronic conditions.
Getting the recommended 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity reduces the risk of all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality by 24%, 29%, and 11%, respectively.  And regularly exercising can extend healthspan by attenuating mechanisms associated with accelerated aging, such as oxidative stress and inflammation. [22,23]
Types of exercise
Let’s explore the different types of exercise and the health benefits associated with each form.
Regular aerobic or cardio exercise (cycling, walking, hiking, running, rowing, dancing) for 60 - 90 minutes over three to six months can improve aerobic capacity by 15 to 30 percent. 
Adaptations in response to strength training occur within six months. Exercise should mimic everyday activity to promote the maintenance of quality of life throughout aging. Strength training encompasses bodyweight movements or the incorporation of weights and resistance bands. 
Flexibility and balance
Flexibility exercises (stretching) supplement strength and aerobic training, improving muscular function, tendon flexibility, and joint mobility. Specifically, static or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation—a method of stretching that incorporates muscle contraction followed by relaxation—can help improve joint mobility and flexibility. [8,9]
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends stretching after light to moderate movement (such as walking) when muscle temperature is elevated. Additionally, stretch at least two to three times per week, holding the position for 10 - 30 seconds and repeating each exercise two to four times. 
How to get started with an exercise routine
It is never too late to start exercising. Picking up exercise later in life is associated with improved health and aging compared to remaining physically inactive. 
Before starting or making drastic changes to your routine, consult your medical provider to ensure exercise is safe for you. And as exercise is individualized, your training routine will be specific to your goals and baseline fitness.
An InsideTracker analysis provides specific exercise recommendations based on what will most profoundly impact your blood biomarkers (like cholesterol and blood sugar) and goals (such as lowering your InnerAge). These recommendations include strength-training, cardiovascular exercise, high-intensity interval training, balance training, and yoga.
The key to beginning an exercise routine is to start small and make it a habit. Set aside time for exercise and choose an activity you enjoy—running, cycling, dancing, swimming, walking, yoga, or aerobics. For example, carve out time for a 10-minute walk around your neighborhood, or plan to do 10 push-ups or bodyweight squats every morning when you wake up. Once you feel comfortable with your walks or resistance exercises, gradually lengthen the time or add more repetitions.
Getting another blood test three to six months after sticking to a dedicated exercise routine is a great way to track progress and get updated feedback on how to further tailor your exercise as you continue to optimize your health.
- Accelerated aging happens when your biological age overtakes your chronological age, affecting how you feel and potentially increasing your risk of age-related health conditions.
- Causes of accelerated aging may include damage to DNA, sarcopenia, elevated levels of metabolic and cardiovascular health, epigenetic alterations that affect gene expression, and chronic inflammation.
- Aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility and balance can work to mitigate contributors of aging including oxidative stress, inflammation, and epigenetic changes. Physical activity also helps strengthen joints, improve the immune system, and supports greater overall wellness and mental health.
- Blood biomarkers serve as reliable and informative metrics of accelerated aging, and can be can be impacted by lifestyle changes.