Having personally seen many older individuals perform impressive physical feats I've always believed it to be the case that one of the main attributes that allows them to do so is they never stopped moving. Never stopped exercising.
This article in the New York Times takes a look at the effects of exercise on mice genetically engineered to age quicker. And in particular it looks at the effects on mitochondria, which power the cells of our body.
Many scientists consider the loss of healthy mitochondria to be an important underlying cause of aging in mammals. As resident mitochondria falter, the cells they fuel wither or die. Muscles shrink, brain volume drops, hair falls out or loses its pigmentation, and soon enough we are, in appearance and beneath the surface, old.
The researchers were surprised by the magnitude of the impact that exercise had on the animals’ aging process, Dr. Tarnopolsky said. He and his colleagues had expected to find that exercise would affect mitochondrial health in muscles, including the heart, since past research had shown a connection. They had not expected that it would affect every tissue and bodily system studied.
Yes we can debate if this study has any validity for homo sapiens, but there is other medical research going on regarding mitochondria. My brother has been working in sports medicine for about 30 years, and over the past 10 years has been involved with cold laser "acupuncture" in which the laser directly affects mitochondria and he has seen some remarkable affects on the speed at which people regain better function, and recover faster from damaged tissue.
But back to physical culture, It is astounding to see historical pictures of active individuals long ago and see how good their posture, physical stature, and body composition appears to be. And they didn't even have treadmills or health clubs stuffed full of high tech machines. Huh.
What they did was move, pick up weight and carry it around, swing from ropes or bars, and in general use their entire body. And I'll hazard a guess they didn't eat to much fast food or anything from a box.
This picture of a Hawaiian surfer circa 1890 is one of my favorites.
He looks more fit and stronger than just about anyone you are likely to see in a gym these days. And I bet he can out paddle, swim, or run anyone in your gym.
And if one were to go to a gymnasium in the 19th Century it's a good bet it would look something like this.
Talk about equipment that forces you to move your own bodyweight instead of plodding along on a treadmill.
While training Karate in Japan I had access to some traditional weights used in Okinawan Karate. Some of Okinawan, and some of even older Chinese origines. Needless to say it was impressive to see older guys demonstrating incredible body control and strength with these stone, wood, and concrete tools.
And finally, my good friend Peter Parsiliti and I contributed to a Men's Health article in which we write about how to use three pieces of equipment - kettlebells, TRX, and the VipR, that will make you move better.
First move better, than move often - as they say.