Most of us have probably heard at some point from someone that those of us who have been life long athletes will suffer for it later. But this may not be true. An important factor thought to influence aging is accumulation of “advanced glycation end products.” Athletes have less of it.
Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are caused by sugars in the blood that get stuck on proteins. AGEs are higher in diabetics. AGEs might be a cause of poor aging in uncontrolled diabetics. AGEs form crosslinks in connective tissue. There is evidence that accumulation of crosslinks makes tendons stiffer and more fragile. But what about masters athletes? Could reduced advanced glycation end products be one of the reasons masters athletes seem to age better and look younger than sedentary people?
Advanced Glycation End Products in Life Long Endurance Runners
The question of advanced glycation end products in older athletes was recently investigated by Couppe et al. (2014). They compared AGEs in four groups of men. One group was made of life long masters athletes with an average age of 64. The second group was a similar number of men who were not masters athletes (average age 66). The third was of trained athletes, average age 26. They were matched to a fourth group of untrained young men, average age 24. The researchers looked at AGEs in the patellar tendon (the one holding the kneecap down) as well as AGEs in skin. All of the men in the athletic categories were trained runners.
Findings: Advanced glycation end products and tendon strength and skin in endurance athletes.
- Advanced glycation end products were 21% lower in tendons trained masters athletes than in their matched sedentary peers.
- Advanced glycation end products were 11% lower in skin of trained masters athletes than their sedentary peers. (This may be part of why masters athletes look so good.) It is also indicates endurance exercise reduces AGEs throughout the body, and not just in the muscles being used.
- Masters Athletes had the thickest tendons out of everyone. This is good because strong tendons can take more stress before suffering damage.
- Masters Athletes had lowest insulin levels among all groups
- Young athletes however had the lowest fasting and non-fasting glucose levels. Masters athletes did better than sedentary peers, but not as good as either group of young men
The most important findings in this study is that life-long endurance training produces a masters athlete with stronger, thicker tendons, less accumulation of advanced glycation end productss in tendon and skin. The increase in AGEs in skin is thought to be responsible for wrinkling and loss of resilience in older skin. Exercise can give you a better body, but it can also make you look better. Limitations of the study: The researchers who did this study only looked at one AGE,Pentosidine. There are many. In all likelihood if Pentosidine is elevated other AGEs are too. But we don’t know for sure How do lifelong masters athletes compare to people who have been exercising for a couple of years or months? What is the optimal level of exercise?
Take away: exercise can reduce Advanced Glycation End Products
Other studies have shown that exercise other than running can reduce circulation of Advanced Glycation End Products. Short-term human studies have include studies of walking and resistance training. If you are a masters athlete . . . keep it up. If you are not, or have fallen off the wagon, . . . its time to join in.
Couppé C, Svensson RB, Grosset JF, Kovanen V, Nielsen RH, Olsen MR, Larsen JO, Praet SF, Skovgaard D, Hansen M, Aagaard P, Kjaer M, & Magnusson SP (2014). Life-long endurance running is associated with reduced glycation and mechanical stress in connective tissue. Age (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 36 (4) PMID: 24997017
Gkogkolou P, & Böhm M (2012). Advanced glycation end products: Key players in skin aging? Dermato-endocrinology, 4 (3), 259-70 PMID: 23467327