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Keys to Successful Aging: Calorie Restriction or Exercise

Which is more important for “Successful Aging”, Calorie Restriction or Exercise?


With an interest in successful aging, a recent article in Exercise and Sports Sciences Reviews by Nicholas Broskey et al caught my attention. In the article, they discuss the concept of primary and secondary aging and hypothesize that both exercise and calorie restriction improve secondary aging but only calorie restriction improves primary aging.
As they outlined, primary aging is the variable progression of the age related decline in physiological homeostasis related to energy expenditure and oxidative stress. The oxidative stress is related to free radical production secondary to the higher energy expenditure seen in humans. Secondary aging is related to the external influences from disease, environmental exposure and lifestyle choices. Two common causes of secondary aging relate to the combination of overeating leading to weight gain associated with lack of physical exercise. This leads to impaired mitochondrial function and amplified oxidative stress which contributes to primary aging. Clearly the process of primary and secondary aging are interrelated – our lifestyle choices impact both types of aging.
They conclude that calorie restriction, but not exercise, reduces metabolic rate and decreases oxidative stress and has more impact on primary aging. Physical activity alone has not demonstrated the same improvements. With secondary aging, which is impacted by our lifestyle choices, both exercise and calorie restriction are powerful tools. It will be interesting to watch this area of research over time. However, clearly there is benefit from healthy nutrition and regular physical activity if we want to be “successful agers”. We should continue to promote both for our patients and our health care system.

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References: Broskey NT, et al. The Panacea of Human Aging: Calorie Restriction or Versus Exercise, Exercise Sports Sciences Reviews, 2019.