Background: Life expectancy at birth in the first world has increased from 35 years at the beginning of the 20th century to more than 80 years now. The increase in life expectancy has resulted in an increase in age-related diseases and larger numbers of frail and dependent people. The aim of our study was to determine whether life-long spontaneous aerobic exercise affects lifespan and healthspan in mice.
Results: Male C57Bl/6J mice, individually caged, were randomly assigned to one of two groups: sedentary (n = 72) or spontaneous wheel-runners (n = 72). We evaluated longevity and several health parameters including grip strength, motor coordination, exercise capacity (VO2max) and skeletal muscle mitochondrial biogenesis. We also measured the cortical levels of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a neurotrophin associated with brain plasticity. In addition, we measured systemic oxidative stress (malondialdehyde and protein carbonyl plasma levels) and the expression and activity of two genes involved in antioxidant defense in the liver (that is, glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and manganese superoxide dismutase (Mn-SOD)). Genes that encode antioxidant enzymes are considered longevity genes because their over-expression may modulate lifespan. Aging was associated with an increase in oxidative stress biomarkers and in the activity of the antioxidant enzymes, GPx and Mn-SOD, in the liver in mice. Life-long spontaneous exercise did not prolong longevity but prevented several signs of frailty (that is, decrease in strength, endurance and motor coordination). This improvement was accompanied by a significant increase in the mitochondrial biogenesis in skeletal muscle and in the cortical BDNF levels.
Conclusion: Life-long spontaneous exercise does not prolong lifespan but improves healthspan in mice. Exercise is an intervention that delays age-associated frailty, enhances function and can be translated into the clinic.