Forget quick fixes from the drug store, if you really want to fight aging, exercise is the tool you need. Many over the counter potions may help mask some of the side effects of growing older, but the process itself happens from the inside out.

There are however a few things known to slow it down – a key one being exercise. Have a look at this feature written by Gretchen Reynolds: Older adults have a strikingly young fitness age, in which you’ll learn that athletes often have a fitness age 20 years or more younger than their chronological age. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to feel 25 at 45 and 70 at 90?

According to Andrew Barr, Lifestyle Coach at DeerFields Clinic in Toronto, optimal sleep, low glycemic nutrition, avoiding toxins, managing stress, and regular exercise, can all help slow the aging process, which typically begins around the age of 30. The cellular processes that accelerate aging are inflammation, oxidation, and glycation. The good news is that exercise helps work against these processes.

Research proves we can fight aging with regular exercise, particularly high-intensity exercise and strength training. Unhealthy habits (like a sedentary lifestyle) appear to speed up cell death and the release of damaging substances from these dying cells. For the first time, research has demonstrated that exercise can prevent or delay this process of aging; that our lifestyle choices play a major role in cell aging; and that exercise may help guard against the aging process by interfering with the rate at which cells die.

Since all physical activity offers health benefits, and enjoyment is what makes us stick with an activity or program over the long term, it may be best to stick with what’s working for you. If on the other hand, you’re determined to stay active and fight aging at the same time, you might consider ramping up the intensity of some of your workouts to achieve the maximum heart rate safe for you.

If you’re wondering why intensity matters, Barr offers this explanation: “The aging process begins around the age of 30 because we are genetically programmed to start shutting down. This happens because, from an evolutionary perspective, 30 years is adequate time to have children who will go on to reach independent reproductive age.

Our hormone levels begin to decline, and many of our organs and tissues begin to lose function. Exercise can communicate with our cells through something called epigenetics, a process where our environment and behaviors communicate with our genes and turn them on or off. Exercising sends a signal to our genes that we do in fact need to maintain cellular function to meet the demands of our lives. Intense exercise sends an even more powerful signal thereby delaying the effects of aging.”

High intensity interval training is a great way to increase the intensity of your workouts: try walking at a brisk pace for three minutes, then jogging for a minute to increase your heart rate further, and then repeating the pattern over and over for the duration of your workout. You can play with this approach in almost every activity: swimming, cycling, running are just a few examples.

Since a 25-30-minute high intensity workout is more effective at fighting aging than a one-hour moderate intensity one, you might also consider reducing your total workout time, perhaps making more time for strength training too.

Even if you’ve never exercised a day in your life, it’s never too late to start.

Still not convinced? Consider these facts:

  1. Despite excessive stress cited by millions of Canadians, fewer than half use exercise as a tool to help manage it – despite it being a proven and drug-free prescription for stress, anxiety and even mild-to-moderate depression.
  2. A recent study of over 334,000 European men and women found that twice as many deaths may be attributable to lack of physical activity compared with those attributable to obesity. The study also concluded that even a small increase in physical activity offers significant health benefits. Regardless of the number on the scale, get moving.
  3. As supported by dozens of studies, those who exercise on average live longer than those who don’t. They also have a lower risk of heart disease, depression, high blood pressure, stroke, colon and breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, depression, and mental decline.
  4. Women in particular would benefit from prescriptions for exercise according to a study that suggests moderate to high intensity activity is essential to reducing the risk of death in older women.
  5. More is now understood about the ability of exercise to stave off cognitive decline and in relation to cognitive function and brain health. Worldwide, a new case of dementia is diagnosed every four seconds. Regular exercise may help change this.