Start exercising at 40 and lose those wrinkles
Workouts plump the skin to keep it looking younger – and may reverse ageing in those taking up fitness in later life
Exercise can boost your bone health, keep you thin and lower your risk of getting a killer disease. It has never had a reputation for keeping wrinkles at bay, though, and I've lost count of the women I know who won't run or swim because they're convinced that it hastens the appearance of crows' feet.
Now, though, scientists at McMaster University in Ontario have found evidence that it will keep people looking younger as well.
They recruited 29 volunteers aged 20-84, half of whom took part in about three fitness sessions a week while the others did only about an hour. Each volunteer was asked to bare a buttock so that skin least likely to be damaged by sun exposure could be analysed. Samples were then taken and after carrying out biopsies, the scientists examined the stratum corneum (the skin's protective outermost layer) and the dermis layer underneath.
Typically, most people begin to experience a thickening of the stratum corneum, which is laden with dead skin cells, after 40. It also begins to sag, droop and wrinkle.
Yet, the scientists found that the regular exercisers had significantly thinner and healthier stratum corneum and thicker dermis layers after the age of 40. Men in their forties had skin biopsies expected in those half their age and the effects persisted even past age 65. The findings support earlier research by scientists at the Saarland University Clinic in Germany, who, while looking at cell lifespans of experienced middle-aged runners versus sedentary peers, noted how much younger the joggers looked.
Dr Tracy Mountford, medical director of the Cosmetic Skin Clinic in Harley Street, says exercise has never deserved its reputation as a wrinkle accelerator. "It is beneficial to exercise at any age," she says. "It increases blood flow to all organs including the skin, which has a definite anti-ageing effect."
If exercise is the route to stopping the ageing clock, then picking the right type is crucial. "There is little doubt that you can tone your skin and look younger, but not all workouts are equal," says Dalton Wong, personal trainer to Jennifer Lawrence, Amanda Seyfried and Alice Eve. "Exercising hard and long often leads to dramatic fat loss, which usually affects the face, prompting a gaunt appearance. It also causes a rise in the hormone cortisol, which can exacerbate ageing."
So what should we be doing? The American Council on Exercise says: "There is a tremendous amount of evidence to suggest that high-intensity strength training and cardiorespiratory exercise can be the stimulus to produce numerous anti-ageing benefits." Aerobic exercise such as walking or cycling are great for the circulation, but avoid endurance activity – anything over 70pc of maximum effort for longer than 45 minutes at 45-plus. Strength training, using either weights or your own body with exercises such as squats and lunges, is also crucial as it promotes muscle protein synthesis for building new muscle cells and keeping skin taut and toned.
Beyond that, stretching and flexibility or massage are also important to release tension that can show in the face. "It's vital to release the fascia – that's the connective tissue around the body – with deep stretching as it helps to boost blood flow and nutrients to your muscles and skin," says Wong. "Pilates or yoga can help, but you can also stretch in front of the TV in the evening."
At his exclusive Twenty Two gym, he's even developed a facial flexibility treatment specifically to relax and release thickened and restricted fascial tissue. "A combination of exercises is really what's needed to enhance blood flow, elasticity and tightness of the skin," he says. "Above all, do things that are not stressful and that you enjoy and your skin will glow."
Rules for your skin
1. Keep long-distance exercise to 45 minutes duration and within 70pc of your maximum effort as you get older.
2. Stay hydrated. "Whatever exercise you are doing, your skin will damage pretty quickly if you don't drink enough water," Wong says. Aim for 500ml before and during a workout.
3. Wear a good, sweat-resistant sunscreen and a hat when exercising outdoors in the summer months, Dr Mountford says. Exercisers are more prone to skin cancer because they neglect sun protection.
4. Vary your exercise. Include stretching, cardio and strength work every week.
5. The occasional marathon or endurance challenge is fine, but choose ground carefully. "Run on grass or softer terrain to lessen the impact that contributes to skin laxity," Dr Mountford says.
6. Carole Maggio, the author of The Ultimate Facercise recommends facial yoga-style exercises to prevent ageing such as this one to avoid a sagging jawline: open your mouth and roll your lower lip over your bottom teeth. Keep your upper lip pressing against your teeth. Slowly open and close your mouth five times, as if your mouth corners and chin are connected and working together.
Don’t forget to pick up FIT Magazine every Monday with the Irish Independent. And you can now join in online FitMag.ie for all the tips, race reports, advice and stories from the fitness world.
And join us for the FIT Magazine City Series 5k/10k down in Cork on Sunday July 13th. Great prizes, goodie bags and all levels welcome. Sign up here