Background: Reactive oxygen species production increases during aging, whereas protective mechanisms such as heat shock proteins (HSPs) or antioxidant capacity are depressed. Physical activity has been hypothesized to provide protection against oxidative damage during aging, but results remain controversial. This study aimed to investigate the effect of different levels of physical activity during aging on Hsp72 expression and systemic oxidative stress at rest and in response to maximal exercise.
Methods: Plasma antioxidant capacity (Trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity, TEAC), thiobarbituric acid-reactive species (TBARS), advanced oxidized proteins products (AOPP), and Hsp72 expression in leukocytes were measured before and after maximal exercise testing in 32 elderly persons (aged 73.2 years), who were assigned to two different groups depending on their level of physical activity during the past 12 months (OLow = moderate to low level; OHigh = higher level).
Results: The OHigh group showed higher aerobic fitness and TEAC (both representing 120% of OLow values) as well as lower oxidative damage (50% of OLow values) and Hsp72 expression. Exercise led to a lower increase in oxidative damage in the OHigh group. Aerobic fitness was positively correlated with TEAC and negatively with lipid peroxidation (TBARS). Hsp72 expression was negatively correlated with TEAC but positively correlated with TBARS levels.
Conclusions: The key finding of this study is that, in people aged 60 to 90 years, long-term high level of physical activity preserved antioxidant capacity and limited oxidative damage accumulation. It also downregulated Hsp72 expression, an adaptation potentially resulting from lower levels of oxidative damage.