12/01/2014 12:12 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2015

Dare to Be 100: Running Trumps Mutation

A number of decades ago, during my post doctoral training era while building my clinical practice, I harbored the pretense that I would do research as well as see patients. The attempt to live a double career combining practice with time in a research lab caused me to attend many meetings, locally, nationally, and even internationally. I sometimes presented papers but mostly I listened. I must have heard many thousands.

I returned from them with pages of notes. My father, a senior physician before me and veteran of many thousands of lectures himself, asked, "What did you learn that you didn't know before?" This query was always chastening as I realized the meager value of the considerable expense of time and energy that was invested. I reflected however that it really was worth while, not so much from the lectures but from the collegial contacts that I made during the adventures.

Such was the case when I attended the annual meeting of the Gerontologic Society of America in Washington two weeks ago. Our session was centered on the effect of the Second Law of Thermodynamics on aging which is a recent preoccupation of mine. There were 10 of us who lectured of value. But the main benefit that I realized from this program was a re-meeting with Prof. George Martin of the University of Washington School of Medicine. George is one of the most esteemed masters of American medicine, a leading expert on the genetic aspects of aging, with a particular interest in the rare condition known as progeria an extraordinary genetic disease characterized by the precocity of age changes. George knew of my interests in the effects of exercise on aging, so we greeted enthusiastically, and almost immediately he referred a scientific paper that he knew would claim my interest. The title of the paper was "endurance exercise rescues progeroid aging and induces systemic mitochondrial rejuvenation in mtDNA mutated mice." It was published in PNAS 2011, multiple authors mostly from McMaster University. The work derived from the lab of Mark Tarnopolsky. (1)

It is a truly elegant paper.

Its conclusions knocked my socks off:

5 months of endurance exercise induced systemic mitochondrial biogenesis, prevented mtDNA depletion and mutations, increased mitochondrial oxidative capacity and respiratory chain assembly, restored mitochondrial morphology, and blunted pathological levels of apoptosis in multiple tissues of mtDNA mutator mice. These adaptations conferred complete phenotypic protection, reduced multisystem pathology, and prevented premature mortality in these mice.

In simpler words: Exercise slowed aging and retarded mortality in these genetically otherwise predestined animals.

This is precisely the mantra that I have espoused for my career.

So I claim great benefit from this encounter, surely worthy of the time and energy expended. I will use this strong endorsement in my ongoing effort to reduce health illiteracy.


Safdar A, Bourgeois J, Ogburn D.,Endurance Exercise Rescues Progeroid Aging and Induces Systemic Mitochondrial Rejuvenation in mtDNA Mutator Mice. 2011 PNAS; 108: 4135-4140.