Achieving fitness through exercise is an inside and not just an outside job. The obvious benefit of exercise is a toned, sculpted and able body however there’s an inner health benefit to consistent exercise that’s incredibly often overlooked: better collagen(1) synthesis resulting in mitigating signs of aging in skin, muscle, joints tendons, ligaments and bone. Collagen synthesis gives strength to the body like “mortar” supporting many of the body’s “bricks” or structures. There are many reasons why exercise encourages the body to produce more collagen and this article discusses the key factors.
The positive effects of exercise are extremely well proven. We know that good consistent exercise encourages healing of organs and tissues. One study assessed how exercise affects collagen in knee muscle and tendons. “…A rapid increase in collagen synthesis after strenuous exercise in the human tendon and muscle,” was shown to occur.
It’s recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic exercise. Only approximately 53% of Americans are meeting this recommendation with many millions of people dangerously sedentary.
Reduction of Inflammation and Cortisol from Stress When it comes to collagen, lack of physical activity can be ruinous. Research shows that people who are sedentary a great deal of the time have higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) which is produced by the liver and is an important marker of the collagen-attacker, inflammation. Inflammation erodes collagen’s volume and functionality.
The lack of mechanical tissue loading through inactivity or immobilization of the body results in a dramatic loss (30-40%) of connective tissue content, structure, and tolerable load within only a few weeks. Regular mechanical load—in other words, weight-bearing exercise—is necessary to preserve the stabilizing role of connective tissues for the overall function of the human body in such simple things as everyday normal activities.
Most of us know about signs of collagen deterioration like skin wrinkling and joint pain but many of us don’t realize that losing vital collagen tissue elevates our risk for cardiovascular disease.
Exercise promotes both the reduction of inflammation and stress that causes too much cortisol production which is destructive to the body.
Less inflammation and cortisol in the body created by regular exercise paves the way for greater collagen synthesis.
Just twenty minutes of brisk walking is enough to trigger an anti-inflammatory response since the movement of walking stimulates muscle cells to release interleukin-6 (IL-6), a protein that lowers levels of the compounds that fuel inflammation.
Regular exercise actually modifies the way the body responds to the stress hormone cortisol. Reducing your body’s production of cortisol not only translates to a boosted collagen production, it calms inflammation and keeps skin better hydrated. A 2007 study in Biological Research for Nursing observed adults over the age of 60 who walked for just 30 minutes at 60% of their maximum heart rate (considered moderate exercise). The study was able to measure a significantly lowered stress and cortisol response.
Healthy Stem Cell Production There is also ample evidence through recent research that exercise promotes healthy stem cells which are vital for muscle, cartilage, tendon, ligament and bone repair. In fact, exercise is believed to represent a novel, non-pharmacological strategy for slowing the decline of musculoskeletal function that occurs as we age. These same stem cell studies observe that exercise stimulates our chondrocytes(3) to grow new collagen-rich cartilage.
Increased Fluid Circulation Increased circulation of the body’s fluids—red and blue veinous blood, lymph,(4) and water—generated through exercise improves the skin’s appearance. A robust workout doesn’t just detoxify the body, it nourishes skin and body as blood delivers nutrients throughout, thus promoting cell renewal, including cell renewal of collagen.
A 2009 study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology measured circulation to the skin in postmenopausal women after they had exercised for 24, 36 and 48 weeks and found that it continued to improve the longer the women had been exercising.
A 2000 scientific study, in part, concluded that endurance exercise activates bone and collagen turnover. And yet another 2000 study found that Type I collagen synthesis is accelerated in response to prolonged strenuous exercise, reaching a peak after three days and returning to pre-exercise levels five days after the cessation of that strenuous exercise. So there’s a good reason to keep the exercise going!
Types of Exercise That Increase Growth Hormone and Collagen Synthesis Research shows that even just moderate-intensity exercise can help build collagen. An animal study published in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine at researchgate.net found that eight weeks of moderate-intensity running not only increased collagen synthesis in the Achilles tendon but also elevated the quality of the tissue. Still another study found that both low- and moderate-intensity running significantly increased cartilage thickness in the knee.
Exercise in whatever form increases the production of growth hormone and while growth hormone levels are initially measured to be higher in younger people than older, after just a few months of following a consistent exercise regimen there is no discernible difference in the amount of growth hormone produced in the younger versus the older person.
Growth hormone prompts your fibroblasts(5) to create more collagen.
Most forms of exercise encourage the production of growth hormone however contemporary research is proving that strength training and high-intensity interval training are the most effective. Combining both of these into your exercise regimen seems to produce the greatest degree of collagen synthesis.
High-intensity interval training, (also discussed in our article: "Exercise and Stretching: Simple Remedies for Cellulite and Fatigue), and known by the acronym HIIT, is a weight-bearing or aerobic program of exercise which alternates between short intense bursts of activity and short and sometimes active recovery periods.
High-intensity type exercise stimulates the production of collagen which is in a constant cycle of creation and destruction in the body no matter your age.
It’s believed by those who do high-intensity training and see the results that weight resistance workouts in the gym or even at home (squats, push-ups, lunges, mountain climbers, lateral bounds, and full body exercises(6) performed in sequence) are best for collagen production because they stimulate the human growth hormone.
High-intensity workouts can be challenging but as long as you adjust to the amount of weight or intensity that you can handle without getting discouraged or being so uncomfortable you want to quit, you can make it work for your body. This kind of workout also economizes on time.
If motivation to exercise is your Achilles’ heel, use the thought of more robust collagen synthesis and a younger-looking you as your motivator to get yourself to the gym, out walking briskly or doing a full body high-intensity workout at home.
Conclusion In the end, the specific type and intensity of exercise may be less important than the act of actually getting your body to move consistently and for at least an hour every day. Every type of exercise, from the very assertive weight training program to the milder gentler yoga, appears to help. Any kind of vigorous exercise will be effective.
Exercise is proven to help keep you younger overall. You truly can grow more collagen and lessen your body’s overall age through exercise. Combined with good nutrition and a good attitude, it’s an indisputable way to get yourself feeling and looking younger and more vibrant with noticeable results beginning to show in just a few weeks or less.
(1) Collagen (from the Greek meaning glue-maker) is a remarkably strong yet relatively inelastic material and major component of our tissues having a tensile strength(2) equal to that of light steel wire.
(2) Tensile strength: the ability to be drawn out or stretched
(3) Chrondrocyte: a cell which has secreted the matrix of cartilage and become embedded in it
(4) Lymph: a colorless fluid containing white blood cells, which bathes the tissues and drains through the lymphatic system into the bloodstream
(5) Fibroblast: a cell in connective tissue which produces collagen and other fibers
(6) The book by Mark Lauren Joshua Clark, You Are Your Own Gym: The Bible of Bodyweight Exercises published Random House Publishing Group in 2011 is an excellent resource for full body exercise you can do at home.
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