TIME

THE NEW SCIENCE OF EXERCISE

Doctors, researchers, scientists—even ancient philosophers—have long claimed exercise works like a miracle drug. Now they have proof
ABOUT THE ART To illustrate the new science of exercise, we updated classic fitness photos from our archives. These high-speed, multiple-exposure images were taken by LIFE photographer Gjon Mili in 1942 and 1962. Contemporary Swedish artist Sanna Dullaway digitally colorized them to give them fresh life. For more, visit time.com/exercise

Ever since high school, Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky has blurred the line between jock and nerd. After working out every morning and doing 200 push-ups, he runs three miles to his lab at McMaster University in Ontario. When he was younger, Tarnopolsky dreamed of becoming a gym teacher. But now, in his backup career as a genetic metabolic neurologist, he’s determined to prove that exercise can be used as medicine for even the sickest patients.

“People would always say to me, ‘Exercise? Come on. Scientifically, you can’t come up with a mechanism, so it’s a complete waste of time,’ ” Tarnopolsky says. “But as time goes on, paper after paper after paper shows that the most effective, potent way that we can improve quality of life and duration of life is exercise.”

Tarnopolsky has published some of those papers himself. In 2011, he and a team studied mice with a terrible genetic disease that caused them to age prematurely. Over the course of five months, half of the mice were sedentary. The other half were coaxed to run three times a week on a miniature treadmill.

By the end of the study, the sedentary mice were barely hanging on. The fur that had yet to fall out had grown coarse and gray, muscles shriveled, hearts weakened, skin thinned—even the mice’s hearing got worse. “They were shivering in the corner, about to die,” Tarnopolsky says.

But the group of mice that exercised, genetically compromised though they were, were nearly indistinguishable from healthy mice. Their coats were sleek and black, they ran around their cages, they could even reproduce. “We almost completely prevented the premature aging in the animals,” Tarnopolsky says.

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