An unhealthy diet and lack of exercise may speed up the aging of senescent cells, leading to an acceleration of diseases and conditions normally seen in older age, according to research findings published in Diabetes.

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Ignoring modifiable factors can accelerate diseases related to aging.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity affects 34.9% of adults in the US, or 78.6 million people.

Obesity increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, which are some of the leading causes of preventable death.

Dr. Nathan LeBrasseur, PhD, of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging at the Mayo Clinic, and colleagues wanted to find out whether exercise could prevent the accumulation of premature senescent cells and metabolic dysfunction caused by a fast-food diet.

They tested their hypothesis on mice.

One group consumed a “normal, healthy diet” and the other group was fed a “fast-food diet,” consisting of food that was high in saturated fat and cholesterol plus sugar-sweetened beverages.

Mice on the fast-food diet experienced unhealthy changes in body weight and composition. Their fat mass nearly tripled over a 4-month period.

Most of the fat accumulated in the midsection of the body, around the internal organs – a phenomenon already associated with a number of obesity-related diseases.

On the other hand, when the same mice began to exercise, their health started to improve significantly.

Half the mice, whether on healthy or unhealthy diets, had access to an exercise wheel.

Both groups benefitted from exercise, but those on the fast-food diet gained less body weight and fat mass than the fast-food consumers that did not exercise. They were also less likely to develop senescent cells.

Those that ate fast food and did not exercise accumulated more senescent cells, increasing their risk of heart and metabolic function disorders.

The researchers believe the findings provide evidence that poor diet and lack of exercise can accelerate aging, not only at a clinically observable level but also at a biological and cellular level.

In the following video, Dr. LeBrasseur describes the experiment and the results:

Dr. LeBrasseur, who is also senior author, says: “Some of us believe that aging is just something that happens to all of us and it’s just a predestined fate, and by the time I turn 65 or 70 or 80, I will have Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.”

However, he says that attention to modifiable factors, such as healthy diet and exercise, can help.

He points out:

That doesn’t mean that we need to be marathon runners, but we need to find ways to increase our habitual activity levels to stay healthy and prevent processes that drive aging and aging-related diseases.”

The researchers urge people to remember that even if they appear to be healthy at midlife, the biology underlying the aging process is at work.

Medical News Today recently reported that exercise may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.