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That’s what researchers at the Mayo Clinic seem to be suggesting by their work on so-called “deadbeat” cells. Their findings were reported in Wednesday’s edition of the journal Nature.

It’s a simple concept really:

When aging body cells gradually stop dividing and settle into a sort of couch-potato stage called cellular senescence, they can begin to damage adjacent cells and cause tissue inflammation. A healthy immune system can evict these senescent cells for a while, but eventually they start to pile up like empty beer bottles before recycling day and pretty soon you’re sliding down that slippery slope toward an early date with the local mortician.

But what if you could drive over to your local pharmacy and get a bottle of pills that, once ingested, would send some hard-to-pronounce chemical on a search-and-destroy mission to just zap those bothersome cells into oblivion? According to Jan van Deursen, a Mayo Clinic molecular biologist and senior author of the study, eliminating these cells in genetically engineered mice delayed the onset of many age-related disorders, including muscle loss. “Therapeutic interventions to get rid of senescent cells or block their effects may represent an avenue to make us feel more vital, healthier, and allow us to stay independent for a much longer time,” he said in a statement released by Mayo.

I suspect we’re a ways away from such a drug hitting the market (“Ask your doctor if Cellatak is right for you.”), so in the meantime, you might try a simpler — and less expensive — approach to maintaining your vitality as you glide into your golden years. Study after study over the past several years have shown that exercising regularly can keep you feeling fit and spry no matter how many years you’ve got under your belt. A 2001 study at the University of Texas, for instance, found that men in their early 50s could regain the cardiovascular capacity they had in their 20s after only six months of modest exercise — less than five hours a week.

“People forget that exercise is medicine,” says Ralph Brovard, a sports medicine specialist at St. Paul’s Regions Hospital in this 2004 Experience Life story. “Daily exercise is perhaps the most powerful tool you can prescribe for yourself; a variety of regular activity helps prevent cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis and just about every other affliction that strikes us as we age.”

I know that it’s comforting to imagine a future where we can switch on our good cells and discard our bad ones by simply ingesting a pharmaceutical. It would make getting and staying healthy so easy and painless. No sweat required.

But I’m not going to wait around for those TV commercials for Cellatak. I’m going to get up in the morning tomorrow and wake up my senescent cells the old-fashioned way — with a bunch of pushups and some quality time with my kettlebell.

Thoughts to share?

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