Exercise improves mitochondrial and redox-regulated stress responses in the elderly: better late than never!

James N Cobley, Peter R Moult, Jatin G Burniston, James P Morton, Graeme L Close

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Ageing is associated with several physiological declines to both the cardiovascular (e.g. reduced aerobic capacity) and musculoskeletal system (muscle function and mass). Ageing may also impair the adaptive response of skeletal muscle mitochondria and redox-regulated stress responses to an acute exercise bout, at least in mice and rodents. This is a functionally important phenomenon, since (1) aberrant mitochondrial and redox homeostasis are implicated in the pathophysiology of musculoskeletal ageing and (2) the response to repeated exercise bouts promotes exercise adaptations and some of these adaptations (e.g. improved aerobic capacity and exercise-induced mitochondrial remodelling) offset age-related physiological decline. Exercise-induced mitochondrial remodelling is mediated by upstream signalling events that converge on downstream transcriptional co-factors and factors that orchestrate a co-ordinated nuclear and mitochondrial transcriptional response associated with mitochondrial remodelling. Recent translational human investigations have demonstrated similar exercise-induced mitochondrial signalling responses in older compared with younger skeletal muscle, regardless of training status. This is consistent with data indicating normative mitochondrial remodelling responses to long-term exercise training in the elderly. Thus, human ageing is not accompanied by diminished mitochondrial plasticity to acute and chronic exercise stimuli, at least for the signalling pathways measured to date. Exercise-induced increases in reactive oxygen and nitrogen species promote an acute redox-regulated stress response that manifests as increased heat shock protein and antioxidant enzyme content. In accordance with previous reports in rodents and mice, it appears that sedentary ageing is associated with a severely attenuated exercise-induced redox stress response that might be related to an absent redox signal. In this regard, regular exercise training affords some protection but does not completely override age-related defects. Despite some failed redox-regulated stress responses, it seems mitochondrial responses to exercise training are intact in skeletal muscle with age and this might underpin the protective effect of exercise training on age-related musculoskeletal decline. Whilst further investigation is required, recent data suggest that it is never too late to begin exercise training and that lifelong training provides protection against several age-related declines at both the molecular (e.g. reduced mitochondrial function) and whole-body level (e.g. aerobic capacity).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-64
Number of pages16
Issue number2
Early online date24 Dec 2014
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Dec 2014


  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria
  • Models, Biological
  • Muscle, Skeletal
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review


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