STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We know that exercise benefits health - kind of obvious. And we're learning more about that. Researchers find people who exercise regularly throughout their lifetimes may be able to keep their hearts and muscles decades younger. NPR's Patti Neighmond reports on the study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: It started in the '70s - running, aerobics - an exercise boon that produced today's 70-somethings who've exercised most of their adult life like 74-year-old Susan Magrath, a retired nurse practitioner who started running as a young mother.
SUSAN MAGRATH: And have spent about 45 years running. I still run.
NEIGHMOND: It's addictive, she says, because no matter how the day goes, she can always run and feel better.
MAGRATH: I ran today actually. There was little snowflakes coming down, and it was down by the river. And it's just wonderful. I think it's also become more of a contemplative meditative process for me.
NEIGHMOND: And it turns out an important boost for her physical health as well. Magrath was part of a study at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, headed by exercise physiologist Scott Trappe, who divided 70 people into three groups - those in their mid-70s who exercised on average for over 52 years, those in their mid-70s who didn't do structured exercise, and those in their mid-20s who did. Trappe compared the three groups with the goal of answering these questions.
SCOTT TRAPPE: One, what was their cardiovascular health? Number two, what was their skeletal muscle health?
NEIGHMOND: To measure cardiovascular health, all participants cycled on a stationary bike for increasingly challenging sessions and exhaled into a mouthpiece that measured oxygen levels, an indicator of cardiovascular strength.
TRAPPE: Lifelong exercisers did very well. Their cardiovascular system looked more like that of 40- to 45-year-olds.
NEIGHMOND: And when it came to muscles, the news was even better.
TRAPPE: Well, if I showed you the muscle data that we have, you wouldn't know that it was from an older individual.
NEIGHMOND: Because it looks more like the muscles of a 25-year-old. Trappe took pea-sized biopsies of muscles and examined capillaries that produce blood flow and a number of enzymes.
TRAPPE: The capillaries and enzymes we're talking about were maintained relative to the young individuals. So it looks like full preservation with the lifelong exercise.
NEIGHMOND: So Trappe says if you want to maintain health in later years, exercise routinely. Walking 30 to 45 minutes most days of the week can be highly beneficial. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF KHURANGBIN'S "PEOPLE EVERYWHERE (STILL ALIVE)")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.