Using the Skeptic’s Toolkit to Find the Anti-aging Effects of Exercise

From the Lecture series: The Skeptic's Guide to Health, Medicine, and the Media

By Roy Benaroch, M.D., Emory University

You want to know how you can prevent aging. How about Googling it to see what the latest information is? This is anyway what most people do in today’s time. A search engine like Google gives millions of answers to a typical health issue. But how can one make sure that the article is reliable? Here’s where the skeptic’s toolkit proves essential.

Woman running on a rural road.
In a study conducted on older adults, results showed that those who did regular exercise had physiological functions like younger adults. (Image: PopTika/Shutterstock)

The Skeptic Toolkit for Health Articles

The skeptic’s toolkit has six S’s, which are the criteria to look for when one is exposed to media information.

The first S is source. A reliable article should provide valid sources that are credible and unbiased. The next S is the strength of the evidence. For example, if a story reviews or cites large clinical trials, it is more reliable than one covering small pilot studies.

The third S is salesmanship. It is highly crucial when it comes to health. A lot of media accounts are actually press releases to sell something. So, the information is not necessarily false, but the viewpoint is not balanced.

The fourth S is salient, which means the story should provide references to studies about people who have the same health background as you. Studies conducted on animals and those on people who are different from you might not be applicable to you.

Graphic representation of connected media and social events broadcast throughout the world.
The resources of a media article should be unbiased and trusted. (Image: solarseven/Shutterstock)

The fifth S is the side of the scale. The article needs to cover differing points of view to be considered a reliable source. So check to see if the report provides both sides of a story. However, it does not mean that both sides of the story should get the same weight. People who misrepresent the evidence do not deserve equal weight.

The sixth S is sensible. Sometimes, the contents of an article don’t add up according to common sense. Before accepting anything, it is always a good idea to think if it seems sensible. In health articles, if something does not seem sensible, it is better to be ignored.

These six S’s should be applied to any health news article to make sure the information is sound and reliable.

This is a transcript from the video series The Skeptic’s Guide to Health, Medicine, and the Media. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

The Influence of Exercise on Age Prevention

A common question related to health is “How to slow down aging?” An overwhelming number of articles on the Internet recommend exercise as a way to slow down aging. A report on MSN.com titled “25 Secret Tips to Stop the Aging Process” claims that “Exercise is a sure shot way to anti-aging. People that have sedentary lifestyles tend to age faster than active people.”  

Elderly couple is seen jogging together.
Exercise has been introduced as an age-preventing factor by many studies. (Image: DenisProduction.com/Shutterstock)

Health.com’s “27 Best Anti-Aging Tips of All Time” also makes the same claim. According to the article, research has shown that regular exercise has anti-aging effects and can help people look younger than their real age. The Journal of Psychology published a study conducted on older adults. The results showed that those who did regular exercise had physiological functions like younger adults.

So, the article mentions the Journal of Psychology as the reference, but it doesn’t provide a link to it. However, a quick googling proves helpful. Typing the full sentence from the article that references The Journal of Psychology, the first result is a link to the cited study.

Learn more about the media and weight loss.

Age Prevention: What Is the Best Exercise?

The title of the article is “A Review of the Effects of Physical Activity and Exercise on Cognitive and Brain Functions in Older Adults”. The article is long and cites 80 other studies. The last sentence from the abstract says, “These findings suggest that physical exercise is a promising nonpharmaceutical intervention to prevent age-related cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases.” There is no evidence as to how much or what kind of exercise is beneficial. Also, it is not clear how exercise can help the body. But, the article claims that workout has considerable benefits in keeping the human mind and body young and supports this claim by providing many references.

There are many other articles on the Internet that show the advantages of exercise. For example, searching a question like “Does exercise help fight aging?” generates results from many reliable articles. One of them is Newsweek’s “Exercise Has Anti-aging Benefits and Makes You Years Younger on a Cellular Level,” and New York Times’ “Does Exercise Slow the Aging Process?” both of these articles claim that exercise has positive effects on the aging process and give references to reliable studies to support their claims.

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Common Questions about the Skeptic’s Toolkit: Anti-aging Effects of Exercise

Q: Does exercise help prevent aging?

Yes. Various scientific studies have proven the benefits of exercise in preventing the process of aging. However, the kind of activity is not clear.

Q: How long should one exercise to fight aging?

Although numerous studies have shown the beneficial effects of workout in slowing down the progression of aging, they do not mention how often or how long the exercise should continue or what kind of exercise is better.

Q: What is a salient study?

A salient study means the results of the study should apply to a specific person. Most studies about animals generally do not pan out, so their results are not applicable to human beings. Human studies should also be about people who have the same health background as that specific person.

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