Chalk up another health benefit for exercise. New research shows that people who exercise at least three times a week appear to have healthier, younger-looking skin. Working out may even reverse skin aging in people who start exercising late in life.
After age 40, most people experience a thickening of the top layer of skin, causing it to become drier, flakier, and denser. At the same time, the underlying layer — the dermis — begins to thin, losing cells and elasticity, giving it a saggier appearance.
But the McMaster researchers found exercise can stave off or even reverse those age-related processes in a study involving 29 men and women — ages 20 to 84. About half of the participants were physically active, performing at least three hours of moderate or vigorous physical activity every week. The others were sedentary, exercising for less than an hour per week.
The scientists biopsied skin samples from each volunteer and found that, after age 40, the men and women who exercised frequently had markedly thinner, healthier top layers of skin and thicker underlying dermis layers in their skin. Their skin was much closer in composition to that of the 20- and 30-year-olds than to that of others of their age — even if they were past age 65, the researchers said.
"I don't want to over-hype the results, but, really, it was pretty remarkable to see," said Mark Tarnopolsky, a professor of pediatrics and exercise science at McMaster who oversaw the study, which was presented this month at the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine annual meeting in New Orleans.
Under a microscope, he added that the volunteers' skin "looked like that of a much younger person, and all that they had done differently was exercise."
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