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Age (Omaha). 1997 April; 20(2): 107–118.
PMCID: PMC3456154

Effects of dietary restriction and exercise on the age-related pathology of the rat


Intervention of the aging process is an effective, experimental means of uncovering the bases of aging. The most efficacious and commonly used intervention used to retard the aging processes is dietary restriction (DR). It increases mean and maximum life spans, delays the appearance, frequency, and severity of many age-related diseases, and more importantly, attenuates much of the physiological decline associated with age. Although the subject of intense research, the mechanism by which DR alters the aging processes is still unknown. Physical exercise is another effective intervention shown to affect aging phenomena, especially when applied in combination with DR. Mild exercise in concert with DR is beneficial, but vigorous exercise coupled with DR could be deleterious. With regard to pathology, exercise generally exerts a salutary influence on age-related diseases, both neoplastic and non-neoplastic, and this effect may contribute to the increase in median life span seen with exercised rats. Exercise coupled with 40% DR was found to suppress the incidence of fatal neoplastic disease compared to the sedentary DR group. Exercise with mild DR suppressed the incidence of multiple fatal disease and chronic nephropathy, and also delayed the occurrence of many age-related lesions compared to the ad libitum (AL) control group. However, these effects may have little bearing on the aging process per se, as maximum life span is only minimally affected. Although not as intensively studied as DR, results from studies that utilize exercise as a research probe, either alone or in combination with DR, have helped to assess the validity of proposed mechanisms for DR and aging itself. Neither the retardation of growth rate nor the increase in physical activity, observed with either exercise or DR, appear to contribute to the anti-aging action of DR. Moreover, results from lifelong exercise studies indicate that the effects of DR do not depend upon changes in energy availability or metabolic rate. The mechanisms involving effects on adiposity or immune function are also inadequate explanations for the action of DR on aging. Of the proposed mechanisms, only one, as postulated by the Oxidative Stress Hypothesis of Aging, tenably accounts for the known effects of DR and exercise on aging.

Key words: Calories, Food intake, Physical activity, Longevity, Life span, Aging, Disease

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Selected References

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