Swim exercise in Caenorhabditis elegans extends neuromuscular and gut healthspan, enhances learning ability, and protects against neurodegeneration

Ricardo Laranjeiro, Girish Harinath, Jennifer E. Hewitt, Jessica H. Hartman, Mary Anne Royal, Joel N. Meyer, Siva A. Vanapalli, Monica Driscoll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Regular physical exercise is the most efficient and accessible intervention known to promote healthy aging in humans. The molecular and cellular mechanisms that mediate system-wide exercise benefits, however, remain poorly understood, especially as applies to tissues that do not participate directly in training activity. The establishment of exercise protocols for short-lived genetic models will be critical for deciphering fundamental mechanisms of transtissue exercise benefits to healthy aging. Here we document optimization of a long-term swim exercise protocol for Caenorhabditis elegans and we demonstrate its benefits to diverse aging tissues, even if exercise occurs only during a restricted phase of adulthood. We found that multiple daily swim sessions are essential for exercise adaptation, leading to body wall muscle improvements in structural gene expression, locomotory performance, and mitochondrial morphology. Swim exercise training enhances whole-animal health parameters, such as mitochondrial respiration and midlife survival, increases functional healthspan of the pharynx and intestine, and enhances nervous system health by increasing learning ability and protecting against neurodegeneration in models of tauopathy, Alzheimer’s disease, and Huntington’s disease. Remarkably, swim training only during early adulthood induces long-lasting systemic benefits that in several cases are still detectable well into midlife. Our data reveal the broad impact of swim exercise in promoting extended healthspan of multiple C. elegans tissues, underscore the potency of early exercise experience to influence long-term health, and establish the foundation for exploiting the powerful advantages of this genetic model for the dissection of the exercise-dependent molecular circuitry that confers system-wide health benefits to aging adults.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23829-23839
Number of pages11
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number47
StatePublished - 2019


  • Aging
  • Caenorhabditis elegans
  • Exercise
  • Muscle
  • Neurodegeneration


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