- Pumping Irony -

PUMPING IRONY: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Exercise offers antiaging benefits as does a popular drug. So combining them should boost longevity, right? Not so much.

A picture of a barbell and several pills

The antiaging industry would like us to believe that there’s a short cut to a long life. In recent years, longevity pioneers have hawked an array of “treatments,” including blood transfusions, restricted-calorie diets, stem-cell therapy, and telomere-repair clinics. Now comes the notion that metformin, a popular medication used to treat type 2 diabetes, may tap the brakes on the aging process.

The fact that the drug’s life-extending powers have so far only proved advantageous to lab mice and worms may cause a geezer to pause before rushing to the doctor in search of a prescription. And we might all want to heed the results of a recent study suggesting that the medication may actually inhibit the antiaging effects of exercise.

As Gretchen Reynolds reports in the New York Times, a research team recruited 53 sedentary volunteers in their early 60s and measured their aerobic fitness, body mass, blood-sugar levels, and insulin sensitivity before and after a four-month exercise regimen. Researchers also took biopsies from the participants’ leg muscles to measure mitochondrial function. Some of the volunteers were given metformin to take during the study; the rest took a placebo.

Two Aren’t Better Than One

At the conclusion of the program, all the volunteers were more fit than when they started, but those taking metformin experienced only about half the gains the placebo group enjoyed. The difference was especially notable when researchers analyzed mitochondrial activity in each participant’s muscle cells. Those who exercised without the drug exhibited a much higher level of mitochondrial respiration — a recognized sign of cellular health — than those taking the medication.

“There was not an additive effect,” lead study author Benjamin Miller, PhD, told Reynolds. The drug and exercise, he noted, “did not seem to play well together.”

It’s human nature, I suppose, to assume that two longevity-producing strategies are better than one. But your body is a fickle partner on the journey from now to whenever. Just because one salutary approach promises to delay the inevitable doesn’t mean that adding another will decelerate the aging process even further.

And, as I like to remind myself whenever smugness sets in after a good workout, I could be sporting the best mitochondrial respiration of my life and still get hit by a bus tomorrow. Life is a crapshoot, but I can at least find a certain solace in a simple truth: I’m too old to die young.

is an Experience Life deputy editor who explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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