Among the minor annoyances of later life is the increased amount of time it takes minor wounds to heal.
Younger people often seem to heal almost overnight.
A recent study out of University of Illinois showed that moderate intensity exercise may actually help our bodies heal wounds faster in two ways.
According to the lead researchers of the study, which was conducted on “old mice”,
(1) exercise helped to lower excess inflammation.
(2) Some evidence suggests that improved circulation could have contributed to the quicker rate of healing in the mice that exercised.
K. Todd Keylock, a professor of kinesiology at Bowling Green State University, summarized the results by saying the following, “The key point of the study is that moderate exercise sped up how fast wounds heal in old mice”.
I wonder if improved blood flow might also be leading to better oxygenation.
Oxygen is good for wound healing.
Here are more details for the physiology geeks among you.
“One of the proposed mechanisms whereby aging adds to delayed healing is that the aged have hyper-inflammatory response to wounding,” Woods said. “The thought is that the exaggerated inflammatory response slows the healing process. So, in essence, what happened here is that the exercise reduced the exaggerated inflammatory response.”
Keylock explained that exercise may be contributing to that reduction in any number of ways.
“Increasing blood flow during the time of exercise is one (possibility),” he said. “We’ve shown in the past that has an effect on how certain immune cells – such as macrophages, function. “And if exercise can help decrease the amount of inflammatory cytokines put out by macrophages, maybe that would help decrease the inflammation, and therefore, speed healing.”
Cytokines are molecules that signal and direct immune cells, such as macrophages, to the site of an infection, Woods said. Macrophages play two critical roles in the wound-healing process, according to Keylock.
“An exaggerated inflammatory response occurs when an older person incurs a wound, “the proinflammatory cytokines that the macropahges produce slow the rate of healing. And interestingly,” he said, “macrophages are drawn to damaged tissue and hypoxic tissue, that is, tissue that has low oxygen content. Wounds, because of the damage to the blood vessels, typically are hypoxic, and macrophages are attracted to that.
“So one potential thing that exercise might be doing, although we would need to test this, is reducing hypoxia within the wounds. And it’s known that hyperbaric oxygen therapy – which has been used with burn patients – speeds wound healing in some people.”