Regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and avoiding sedentary behavior are frequently reported as being important in determining how slowly we age. A team of researchers recently set out to determine the link between physical activity, sleeping, and sedentary behavior .
Finding out if sleep, exercise, and sedentary behavior really impact aging
During their introduction, the researchers note that advancing age is the primary risk factor for many chronic (mainly age-related) diseases. They also point out that from an economic perspective, delaying aging even by a mere 2.2 years has the potential to save at least 7 trillion dollars in the next 50 years.
Even if the personal benefits of slowing or reversing aging do not convince some people to support developing rejuvenation technology, the economic benefits are compelling for governments. The more we can slow down aging, the more money will be saved on healthcare costs.
The researchers enrolled 5288 participants aged 20 or older in the study. They gathered demographic information from the participants, including age, sex, ethnicity, and education level, along with lifestyle data on smoking and drinking.
The participants completed a Global Physical Activity Questionnaire as part of their self reporting for the study. This questionnaire gathered information about each participant’s sedentary lifestyle, walking/cycling habits, and amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity. The participants also reported their sleeping habits and duration in interviews.
Biomarkers of aging used in this study
Finally, the biological and chronological ages of the participants were compared using PhenoAgeAccel, a widely used aging biomarker panel proposed by Morgan Levine, Steve Horvath, and colleagues back in 2018 . PhenoAgeAccel uses albumin, creatinine, glucose, C-reactive protein, lymphocyte percentage, mean cell volume, red cell distribution width, alkaline phosphatase, and white blood cell count.
- Albumin is an established biomarker of nutritional status, but it is also related to inflammation, hepatic synthesis capacity, and mortality risk from cancers, respiratory diseases, and heart failure.
- Creatinine is a metabolite produced in muscle tissue and derived from creatine. Serum creatinine is widely used as a biomarker of kidney function.
- C-reactive protein is a biomarker of inflammation, and its levels increase during bacterial infection.
- Lymphocyte percentage is a biomarker that is used to determine immune function, and low levels are also associated with frailty. A reduction in total lymphocyte count in the blood also appears to be a characteristic marker of harmful changes in the immune system.
- Mean cell volume is a biomarker of platelet production and function, and it reflects inflammatory burden.
- Red cell distribution width is a biomarker commonly used to diagnose anemia, a condition in which red blood cells can’t carry enough oxygen to organs and tissues.
- Alkaline phosphatase is a biomarker of liver diseases, bone disorders, and cancers.
- White blood cell count is a biomarker for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as well as a reliable biomarker of inflammation.
What the researchers found
The researchers suggest that the data presented in their publication is evidence that walking/cycling, sleeping, and moderate to vigorous activity were associated with a slower rate of aging according to PhenoAgeAccel. In contrast to this, sedentary behavior was associated with a faster rate of aging by the same metric.
Furthermore, replacing sedentary behavior with an equal amount of walking/cycling, sleeping, or moderate to vigorous activity also appeared to be associated with a reduced aging rate as measured by PhenoAgeAccel. This was most apparent in people who engaged in moderate to vigorous activity no more than 150 minutes a week. The researchers suggest that their study highlights the importance of maintaining regular physical activity, particularly in that group.
Physical activity was believed to be associated with reduced aging among adults, while the competing nature of the physical activity and sedentary behavior has mainly been neglected in studies. We aimed to estimate the association of sleeping, sedentary behavior, and physical activity with aging among adults, considering the competing nature between variables of activity status.
It has long been said that exercise and sleep are ways we can slow down the rate we age, and this study adds support to that. While these things are unlikely to allow us to live decades longer in good health, they are actionable things we can all do now while waiting for rejuvenation technologies to arrive that could take us further.
Exercise also has a price point of zero, with activities such as walking, jogging, and running costing nothing or, at worst, the price of a decent pair of running shoes. Sedentary behavior is very much a product of the modern age, but if we are mindful of its dangers and take action, we can optimize the chances of being healthier for longer.
Biomarkers such as PhenoAgeAccel are increasingly revealing the things that slow down or increase how fast we age, and that knowledge gives us power. As more studies are conducted and the ease of testing with these and similar biomarker panels increases, the more we will learn about what things make us age faster or slower.
 Han, M., Fang, J., Zhang, Y., Song, X., Jin, L., & Ma, Y. (2023). Associations of sleeping, sedentary and physical activity with phenotypic age acceleration: a cross-sectional isotemporal substitution model. BMC geriatrics, 23(1), 165.
 Levine, M. E., Lu, A. T., Quach, A., Chen, B. H., Assimes, T. L., Bandinelli, S., … & Horvath, S. (2018). An epigenetic biomarker of aging for lifespan and healthspan. Aging (albany NY), 10(4), 573.