This story covers some British biotech companies I was not extremely familiar with… and some research studies that are interesting:
About a decade ago, 125 amateur cyclists from all over the UK filed into the laboratories at King’s College London. Aged between 55 and 79, they were there to participate in a long-term study examining how regular physical activity affects the ageing process.
Janet Lord, professor of immune cell biology at Birmingham University, who conducted the study in collaboration with King’s professor Steve Harridge, said the team were surprised by some findings when they examined the cyclists’ bodies and took blood samples over several years.
Her subjects, described as “very keen cyclists”, were fairly fit, riding up to 60 miles a week.
“We found things like increased fat in the body, which a lot of people tell you ‘oh, there’s nothing you can do about that, that’s part of ageing’ – just were not true. They didn’t happen in this group. We compared them with healthy older adults who were not regular exercisers. Our group did not lose muscle … and didn’t lose much bone mass either,” said Lord, who is the director of the university’s Institute for Inflammation and Ageing, and a special adviser to the House of Lords inquiry into ageing, which published a report in 2021.
The biggest surprise related to the thymus gland, which sits on top of the heart and makes white blood cells called T-cells. It normally shrinks in older people – but not in the cyclists. Its decline affects people’s immune system. “And that’s why you’re not very good at responding to new infections like Covid, or vaccines,” Lord said.
She and her team are still monitoring the cyclists to figure out how much exercise is needed, and how intense it needs to be, to reap the health benefits.